Karapatan asserts call of families of EJK victims to stop the killings, end drug war, and junk NTF-ELCAC

Human rights alliance Karapatan together with families of victims of extrajudicial killings from Hustisya and Rise Up for Life and for Rights, renewed their call on President Rodrigo Duterte “to end once and for all his deadly yet utterly ineffective anti-people programs” such as the war on drugs and the counterinsurgency operations of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as they gathered at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center today to offer flowers before a symbolic memorial to honor their slain loved ones and demand justice for their killings.

“Duterte’s marching orders to the police and the military are as clear as day: kill, kill, and kill and you will be rewarded — and his sham and bloody drug war as well as the counterinsurgency operations of the NTF-ELCAC have only set them loose in a murderous rampage that has only produced thousands of dead bodies and grieving families in its wake. These killings cannot continue, and we are determined in ringing our call to end the drug war and to junk the NTF-ELCAC as we pursue justice and accountability,” Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Jigs Clamor stated.

The gathering today is part of the activities for the December 10 commemoration of the International Human Rights Day this year “not only amid a pandemic but also amid an epidemic of killings and State violence in the rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines under Duterte,” Clamor continued.

“The families with us here today have lost children, husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers to the government’s bloodbath simply for being poor, or simply because they were resolute in their defense of people’s rights in the face of State repression and violence. Their loved ones have been repeatedly vilified by State security forces as drug addicts, criminals, or terrorists to justify their cold-blooded murders — all in order to evade accountability for the government’s dastardly acts that brazenly violate human rights as well as international humanitarian law. How many more dead bodies does the government want before it says ‘enough?’” he asked.

Even with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Duterte administration’s campaign of mass murder has persisted as the drug war continued to claim more lives in urban poor communities across the country even as international human rights bodies such as the United Nations Human Rights Council have called on the Philippine government to cease the operations of the drug war. Thousands of killings linked to anti-drug police operations also remain unresolved even as the Department of Justice conducts a review on drug-related killings.

Meanwhile, the “whole-of-nation approach” of the NTF-ELCAC has aggravated the attacks and killings of political dissenters and activists under the government’s counterinsurgency campaigns as it ramps-up its massive red-tagging campaign and deployed more police and military personnel in Negros, Eastern Visayas, and Bicol under Memorandum Order No. 32. As of November 2020, Karapatan has documented 353 cases of extrajudicial killings in line with Duterte’s counterinsurgency program, particularly the cold-blooded murders of activists, peasants, and human rights defenders such as Jory Porquia and Zara Alvarez, and of peace consultants Randall Echanis, Julius Giron, and couple Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio.

In a statement, the family of Magpantay and Topacio repudiated the police’s claims that the couple resisted arrested and engaged in a gunfight with the police that eventually led to their deaths. Both husband and wife are already 69 years old and are already afflicted by the physical infirmities of old age. Eugenia Magpantay is suffering from diabetes and has experienced a stroke recently, which rendered her comatose for four days, while Agaton Topacio was in pain for heart enlargement, knee injury on his anterior cruciate ligament, and frozen shoulder. 

“There is simply no way that the elderly couple was even able to put up a resistance, let alone an armed one, against dozens of policemen armed with high-power guns and artillery. Instead, as the narrative appears before us, the police are merely iterating their ‘nanlaban’ narrative to justify the tokhang-style murder of an elderly and sickly couple,” said Atty. VJ Topacio, the couple’s son. 

The Karapatan official said that the Duterte administration is “visibly gearing up for a bloodier crackdown on dissent and assault on human rights with the enactment of Duterte’s terror law as well as the recent appointment of a notorious fascist butcher and human rights violator like Major General Debold Sinas as the new chief of the Philippine National Police. More than a ‘mañanita cop,’ Sinas is also known for his hand in the increase of drug-related killings in Central Visayas as well as the murders of peasant activists and human rights defenders in Negros during his stint as the regional director of the Central Visayas police. His appointment sends a clear message that murderers and human rights violators are not only tolerated but actively supported and rewarded by this regime.”

“Our commemoration of the International Human Rights Day this year is an indictment of the Duterte administration’s brazen crimes against the Filipino people, which have only become more brutal with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. The victims of the government’s murderous rampage are not mere numbers or statistics, and today, we do not merely remember their names and lives: we honor them by asserting their families’ continuing struggle for justice and accountability. We call on the Filipino people to stand for human rights, and to condemn, resist, and end these killings and fascist attacks upon the people as we fight onwards to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice,” he ended.