A year after Bloody Sunday raids, Karapatan asserts: Duterte, NTF-ELCAC must also be held accountable

A year after the Bloody Sunday raids in the Southern Tagalog region which killed nine activists and led to the arrest of four others, human rights watchdog Karapatan lamented that justice remains elusive for the victims and their families as “similar attacks, atrocities, and violence against activists and human rights defenders continue with rampant impunity” through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Despite the filing of charges against the policemen involved in the raids that killed long-time union leader Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion in Cavite and fisherfolk leaders Ariel Evangelista and Ana-Mariz “Chai” Lemita-Evangelista in Batangas, Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor reasserted on Monday that President Rodrigo Duterte and officials of the NTF-ELCAC should also be held accountable for the raids.

“As we join the families of the victims of the Bloody Sunday raids in asserting their calls for justice, we also assert that blood is not only upon the hands of the policemen involved in the raids: President Duterte’s kill-kill-kill orders, the red-tagging of NTF-ELCAC officials, and the judges who issued the warrants have clearly and directly led to this gruesome bloodshed a year ago. They are also culpable for these atrocities, and there is no justice as long as they too are not held accountable,” Clamor stated.

Along with Asuncion and the Evangelista couple, also killed in the raids were housing rights activists Melvin Dasigao and Mark Lee Bacasno, cousins and indigenous Dumagat farmers Puroy and Randy Dela Cruz, and brothers and banana farmers Edward and Abner Esto. Meanwhile, union leaders Esteban Mendoza, Elizabeth Camoral, and Eugene Eugenio, as well as Karapatan human rights worker Nimfa Lanzanas were arrested in the raids and are currently facing various trumped-up charges.

The NTF-ELCAC together with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) claimed that the raids were “legitimate operations” against people they have red-tagged as members of “communist terrorist groups” in the Southern Tagalog region. Two days before the raids, Duterte gave the following orders to the AFP and PNP: “If there’s an encounter and you see them armed, kill, kill them, don’t mind human rights, I will be the one to go to prison, I don’t have qualms.”

The Karapatan official said that the killings and arrests during the raids all followed similar “tokhang-style” patterns, since “all of those killed were unarmed civilians and were sleeping during the dawn raids. Even when they pleaded for their lives, they were mercilessly murdered while illegal weapons were planted in their homes to further the ‘nanlaban’ narrative and justify these killings, as the Duterte administration has repeatedly done in its sham and brutal drug war.”

Last December 1, 2021, The Administrative Order No. 35 task force of the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommended the filing of murder complaints against 17 policemen involved in the raid that killed Asuncion, while, on January 14, 2022, the DOJ announced that the National Bureau of Investigation had filed murder complaints against 17 police officers involved in the operation at killed the Evangelista couple. Clamor averred, however, that “the buck must not stop there.”

“President Duterte, the NTF-ELCAC, former Southern Luzon Commander Antonio Parlade Jr., then-Philippine National Police chief Debold Sinas, as well as judges Jose Lorenzo Dela Rosa, Jason Zapanta, and Miguel Asuncion should likewise be investigated and charged by the DOJ’s Administrative Order No. 35 task force if it wants to serve genuine justice and not merely punishing a few policemen as the same atrocities are still being committed with impunity,” he continued.

“The Bloody Sunday raids drew widespread domestic and international condemnation as it highlighted what is clearly a State policy of terror, killings, and blatant disregard for human rights. Along with domestic mechanisms, an independent and impartial international investigation as well as the complete abolition of the NTF-ELCAC remains urgent and necessary if the government is really firm in pursuing justice for the victims,” Clamor ended.