With greater scrutiny on service of warrants, activists fear rise in vigilante-style killings

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 30 2021 02:14 AM

MANILA — The killing of labor leader Dandy Miguel Sunday night shocked his fellow-labor activists not just by his brutal death — 8 bullets, according to labor group PAMANTIK-KMU — but also because they fear it could mark a shift in the way activists are killed in the region.

Bayan Timog-Katagalugan spokesperson Casey Cruz said in an online press conference Monday that the increased scrutiny on the service of warrants in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, in which 9 activists were killed during simultaneous service of search warrants by the police in different areas in the Calabarzon region, could have the unintended consequence of assailants resorting to vigilante-style killings. 

“Kasi if you have these search warrants, meron kang perpetrators na maaaring panagutin. Clearly it is the uniformed and armed men ng estado, ng government. But sa ngayon, ang ginagawa na nila, parang vigilante killing na. Krimen talaga. Sa biyahe mo pag-uwi, doon ka babarilin, doon ka papaslangin. Wala kang kalaban-laban at di mo alam kung sino ang maaaring pananagutin,” she said.

(Because if you have search warrants, you have perpetrators whom you can hold accountable. That’s clearly the uniformed and armed men of the State, the government. But now, what they do is similar to a vigilante killing. It’s really a crime. On your ride home, they’ll shoot you, they’ll kill you. You are defenseless and you won’t know whom to hold accountable.)

“Yun ang mas nakakatakot dahil it is already beyond the rule of law. Wala na, wala nang pangil ang batas. Hindi na kailangang dumaan pa sa ligal na proseso ng application for search warrant o warrant of arrest para kitilin yung buhay mo. Yun yung pinakanakakatakot na sitwasyon sa Southern Tagalog,” she added.

(That’s the scarier part because it’s already beyond the rule of law. The law would be toothless. It need not go through a legal process by applying for a search or arrest warrant to kill. That’s the scariest part of our situation in Southern Tagalog region.)

Miguel was shot dead by still unidentified assailants — Calamba Police has yet determine how many — while on board his motorcycle on his way home in Barangay Canlubang in Calamba city, Laguna.

His death came just 3 weeks after another labor leader, Manny Asuncion, was killed by police during a dawn raid in his office in Cavite, supposedly because he resisted arrest. His colleagues and family are contesting the police narrative.

Eight other activists were killed on March 7, dubbed Bloody Sunday, in simultaneous dawn raids in Batangas, Rizal and Cavite.

In the face of mounting criticisms both from local and international groups, the Supreme Court said it was looking into requiring law enforcers to use body cameras in the service of warrants.

The Justice Department has also said it will endorse the Bloody Sunday killings to the AO 35 task force which probes extrajudicial killings involving activists and rights defenders.

CONDEMNATION

Miguel’s killing triggered a new wave of outrage among labor groups, with Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes, Jr. saying the perpetrators appeared to be “undeterred” and “not afraid” of the courts and other instruments of accountability.

“They may in fact be enjoying protection form very powerful people in government,” he claimed.

Various groups have pinned the blame on State forces, with Anakpawis Party-list calling it a “lockdown EJK” as it occurred hours before the so-called National Capital Region plus bubble consisting of NCR, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite was placed on enhanced community quarantine, the strictest quarantine protocol, for a week.

"We condemn this lockdown-EJK and this is exactly why we oppose any new lockdown under the authority of #DutertePalpak and his syndicate IATF. This proves that the lockdown declaration is a counter-insurgency measure, all to target activists and critics, and a sham measure to resolve the pandemic, when essential medical responses are inadequate even after a year," Ariel "Ka Ayik" Casilao, Anakpawis Party-list National President and former representative said.

Fishers’ organization PAMALAKAYA asked: “Who else are capable of carrying out such heinous crime while the province would be implementing in a moment the ECQ?”

“Miguel is the latest victim in the Duterte regime's all-out war against the working class,” DEFEND-Southern Tagalog said in a statement, adding that Miguel and his organization, PAMANTIK-KMU, for which he was vice chairperson, have been the subject of red-tagging by government agents. 

Rights groups alliance KARAPATAN, on the other hand, said at least 54 workers in public, private sectors have been killed under Duterte administration. The Commission on Human Rights has a higher figure at 130.

“We consider these killings as direct violations on the workers’ exercise of their right to organize unions and their freedom of association. It is likewise a consequence of the vicious red-tagging schemes of those in government, in their vile and desperate attempts to silence dissent amid the economic and political crisis faced by poor communities especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” KARAPATAN said.

On the same night as Miguel’s death, caskets bearing anti-communist propaganda appeared at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City and a bridge in Guadalupe, Makati.

NO UPDATE YET ON KILLING

As of Monday night, Calamba Police told ABS-CBN News there was still no update on Miguel’s case and as to the possible assailants.

Malacañang and the Philippine National Police have yet to address allegations of supposed government involvement in Miguel’s killing.

Labor coalition NAGKAISA! called on the AO 35 committee to probe the killing and appealed to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to denounce it.

In a letter to Bello, the Council of Global Unions Pilipinas asked for another meeting with Bello to be updated on the plans to created monitoring bodies to look into the recent killings, violence and threats against trade unionists. 

The Commission on Human Rights has sent a quick response team even as it urged Congress, the Justice and Labor departments to prioritize the probe into Miguel’s death.

DOJ RESPONSE 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday said the DOJ will first conduct a preliminary assessment of Miguel’s killing. 

“If there's any indication that Miguel’s death had something to do with his being a labor leader, the AO 35 committee will include his case for investigation,” he said.

That assessment could take place this week, Guevarra said, explaining that a prior schedule for an AO 35 meeting last week was postponed due to a "rash of COVID cases" at the DOJ.

That same meeting will tackle, for the first time, the Bloody Sunday killings while the task force is expected to release an inventory of cases by April.

But Guevarra’s statement did not sit well with labor groups.

REACTION TO DOJ RESPONSE

“Nakakainsulto po para tanungin kung ito ay labor-related habang nakahandusay si kasamang Dandy na nakasulat sa kanyang t-shirt ‘sahod, trabaho, karapatan, ipaglaban,” Cruz said in Monday’s online forum.

(It is insulting to ask if the killing was labor-related while Dandy’s body lay lifeless with his t-shirt bearing the words “wages, work, fight for your rights.”)

Kilusang Mayo Uno Chairperson Elmer “Ka Bong” Labog, on the other hand, asked what more evidence does the DOJ need?

“Ano bang propesyon ni kasamang Dandy? Hindi ba siya ay isang manggagawa? Hindi ba siya ay lider natin sa Southern Tagalog? Ano pa ang kailangang ebidensya na hindi labor-related ang pagpaslang sa kanya?,” he asked.

(What is Dandy’s profession? Isn’t he a worker? Isn’t he a leader in Southern Tagalog. What more evidence do you need? That his killing was not labor-related?)

“Imbes na bigyan agad ng masusing imbestigasyon at hustisya ang mga sunod-sunod na pagpaslang ay kung anu-ano pang hugas kamay at paikot-ikot ang kanilang ginagawa,” he added.

(Instead of immediately conducting a through probe and providing justice in the wake of successive killings, they resort to doding responsibility and running around in circles.)

“Wala na po kaming luxury of time, wala na po kaming luxury of legal remedies dahil kaliwa’t kanan na po ang pamamaslang sa mga kasama namin,” PAMANTIK-KMU spokesperson Paul Carson said. 

(We don’t have the luxury of time, we don’t have the luxury of legal remedies because the killings of our colleagues are happening left and right.)

‘PANG DANDY’ 

Until his death, Miguel had worked tirelessly seeking to protect his fellow-trade unionists, according to his colleagues.

Aside from his role as vice chairperson of PAMANTIK-KMU, Miguel also served as union president of Lakas ng Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng Fuji Electric - OLALIA-KMU since its establishment in 2015 — earning him the monicker “Pang Dandy” or Pangulong (President) Dandy.

Among his last public acts was to speak out against the Bloody Sunday killings of labor activists at the Commission on Human Rights on March 15 when they also filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights against profiling, surveillance, harassment and intimidation allegedly by state forces and members of the anti-insurgency task force National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) on 14 union members in Laguna.

Kilusang Mayo Uno holds presscon at the Commission on Human Rights on “escalating” attacks against unionists not just on March 10 dubbed “Bloody Sunday” but even on previous days. They intend to file a complaint and hold a dialogue with CHR. pic.twitter.com/mHirKHKIgu

— Mike Navallo (@mikenavallo) March 15, 2021 ">
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The union members claimed they were being persuaded to disaffiliate from their union, linking their union to the Communist Party of the Philippines which President Duterte and the Anti-Terrorism Council have declared to be a terrorist group.

Two weeks after filing the complaint at the CHR, the rights body would be investigating Miguel’s own death.

“Para pong death sentence ang maging aktibista, ang ipaglaban ang karapatang pantao, ipaglaban ang karapatan ng mga mamamayan,” DEFEND-Southern Tagalog spokesperson Charm Maranan said.

(It feels as if being an activist is a death sentence — to fight for human rights and rights of citizens.)

“And this is all happening in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a public health crisis that has also killed thousands of Filipinos because of a rotten healthcare system that allows Filipinos to sacrifice their lives, that allows people to be burdened by different societal problems that continue to plague society and the Filipino people in general,” she added.

Miguel is the second Calabarzon leader to be killed this month and the third labor leader killed in the country this year.

He is survived by his wife and 2 minor children. He was only 35.


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