Continuing killings, mass arrests, military harassment amid lockdown reveal Duterte regime’s priorities

The Duterte government is desperately intensifying its counterinsurgency operations as a cover-up for its failure in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts, human rights watchdog Karapatan said, as the group decried the continuing killings, arrests, and harassment of farmers and activists at the hands of police and military forces. More than a smokescreen, however, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay also said that “the Duterte regime’s rabid fixation on counterinsurgency and scapegoating of the communist insurgency in the middle of a crisis of its own doing reveals in full its warmongering priorities as it rolls out more draconian policies — not to combat the pandemic but to brutally stifle dissent and flatten the curve of brewing social discontent.”

“In the middle of a public health crisis, the government is exploiting its emergency powers and heightened military deployment in communities to intensify its counterinsurgency operations by carrying out brutal killings, mass arrests, and harassment of activists in the countryside. Unable to answer questions regarding the government’s inadequate response to the health crisis, Duterte and his militarist minions are unleashing a massive campaign of repression, deception, and State terror upon the people,” Palabay continued.

Last Friday, May 8, elements of the 31st Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Special Action Battalion and the 1st and 2nd Provincial Mobile Force Company brutally massacred five farmers in Brgy. Dolos, Bulan, Sorsogon. Jeric Vuno, Jerry Palanca, Robert Villafuerte, Raymundo Tañada and Jaime Tañada were forcibly taken from their homes and were brought to a nearby river where they were killed by the police and military, who falsely claimed that the five farmers were New People’s Army combatants slain in a fabricated armed encounter.

In Brgy. Coral ni Lopez, Calaca, Batangas, six farmers and leaders of Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Coral ni Lopez (SAMACOLO) were arrested last May 10 after successive raids on at least 13 households led by the combined elements of the PNP Special Weapons and Tactics, Philippine Air Force, and the AFP’s 202nd Brigade. The households of barangay secretary Virgilio Vidal, barangay councilor Leovino Julongbayan Jr., Doroteo Bautista, July Julongbayan, Roilan Tenorio, and Marcelo Vidal were raided through a search warrant issued by Judge Cynthia R. Mariño-Ricablanca on May 7 from the Regional Trial Court in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. The military and police reported that all six possessed grenades, and as of writing, the farmers were detained at Camp Vicente Lim and then transferred to the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group office in Calamba, Laguna, where they remain in custody. Brgy. Coral ni Lopez is a disputed land and SAMACOLO and its members have been the target of threats because of their struggle against land-grabbing.

Meanwhile, Catholic priest and anthropologist Raymond Ambray is being red-tagged and harassed by Facebook accounts suspected to be operated by the Philippine Army’s 36th Infantry Battalion, 401st Infantry Brigade and their paramilitaries. Ambray has worked with Lumad schools and displaced Lumad communities in Lingig, Surigao del Sur, and is being maliciously accused as a “harbinger of evil” for allegedly manipulating the Lumad.

The Karapatan official averred that “these cases of State-perpetrated harassment and human rights violations coupled with the regime’s paranoid crackdown on social media critics and press freedom advocates are part and parcel of the Duterte regime’s sinister machinations to cement his dictatorial rule. Laws are being bent and weaponized to file ludicrous charges against dissenters while his allies like Debold Sinas, Koko Pimentel, and Mocha Uson can blatantly flout laws and policies and get away unscathed — if not for the loud outcry of the people demanding accountability.”

“Duterte can no longer cover up with lies his murderous regime which is why he is now rabidly lashing out with more State violence and repression in the face of growing resistance to his tyrannical rule and social unrest. Duterte is manufacturing a state of fear to create a chilling effect to deter his critics, but these are old tactics that will no longer work against the people. By baring its fascist, anti-people fangs, this regime is only giving the people more reason to stand, fight back, and demand justice,” she ended.