Gov’t probe on Bloody Sunday killings of activists should genuinely uphold victims’ demands for justice and accountability

A week after the Bloody Sunday police raids that killed nine and arrested six others throughout the Southern Tagalog region, human rights watchdog Karapatan reiterated its calls for justice as the group asserted that the Philippine government’s investigation into the killings “should ensure that it truly upholds the demands of the victims and their families for justice and accountability, which includes prosecution of the perpetrators and those who rolled out such orders, and recognition of these crimes and indemnification.”

“We stand with the victims of the Bloody Sunday raids and all victims of human rights violations along with their families in demanding justice and we will engage all available remedies in order to ensure that their demands for accountability are heard and concretely acted upon. Genuinely upholding the interest of victims to attain justice and holding the perpetrators of these atrocities accountable are paramount and urgent in all mechanisms — domestic or international — seeking to probe these atrocities,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has opined the incidents in the Bloody Sunday police raids to the Administrative Order No. 35 Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings and Enforced Disappearance after endorsing them for the committee’s investigation due to “sufficient evidence that the victims were members of cause-oriented groups carrying out legitimate dissent.”

Nine were killed during in raids in Cavite, Batangas, and Rizal: Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) – Cavite coordinator Emmanuel Asuncion, fisherfolk leaders Ariel Evangelista and Ana Mariz Lemita-Evangelista of Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA), Melvin Dasigao and Mark Lee Bacasno of urban poor group San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan, at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD-K3), Dumagat farmers Puroy and Randy Dela Cruz, and Abner and Edward Esto.

The killings have “appalled” the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR). While the office has welcomed the Philippine government’s investigation as a “critical test for the domestic investigative mechanisms,” the OHCHR also cited High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s June 2020 report on the human rights situation in the Philippines since the office has “documented a serious lack of due process in police operations, and near-total impunity for the use of lethal force by the police and the military.”

Palabay said that “Karapatan, together with the victims and their families, would engage with the DOJ’s investigation into these brutal killings as one of the many avenues and means being pursued to seek justice both at the domestic and international levels. However, the victims, their families, and witnesses have rightful reasons to be reluctant and even critical of the government’s own investigation through the AO 35 task force.”

“The committee has been here for a long time — but it has neither made significant inroads in investigating the previous killings of activists nor put a stop to the killings, which have only worsened at an alarming degree. Therefore, we are putting Secretary Guevarra and the AO 35 committee to task of building confidence and ensuring the trust of the families of the victims, the public, and most especially the witnesses in order for them to testify in the committee’s investigations. The burden is on them to assure the victims’ families that the investigations would not be used as a window dressing to cover up the deteriorating state of human rights in the country,” she averred.

The Karapatan official cited, in particular, the inclusion of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the AO 35 task force in calling into question the independence and impartiality of the investigations “especially when the AFP and PNP are the direct perpetrators of the atrocities during the Bloody Sunday raids, which they assert were ‘legitimate operations’ against people they have red-tagged as members of ‘communist terrorist groups’ in the region.”

Palabay also recalled the threats made by President Rodrigo Duterte against UN human rights experts seeking to investigate the situation in the country and how “to this day, not a single UN Special Rapporteur has set foot in the country because the government have repeatedly blocked and dissuaded them from coming to the country. If the Duterte government is really confident in saying that domestic mechanisms of accountability are working, why are they not cooperating with independent international bodies? Why are they not allowing the UN experts to conduct parallel investigations? Why is the government discrediting them or their efforts?”

“If the Philippine government is truly and genuinely conducting these investigations for the interest of justice and accountability, then they must have no problem with international human rights bodies and civil society efforts probing these killings and the human rights crisis in the Philippines. Along with domestic mechanisms, an international, independent, and impartial investigation proves to be urgent and necessary if the government is really firm in concretely acting upon the demands of the victims and their kin. The Philippine government must not use their investigations to punish scapegoats but hold accountable those who have also enabled these atrocities — even from those in the highest echelons of State bureaucracy,” the Karapatan official concluded.