Urgent appeal for action for victims in the Bloody Sunday incidents and attacks against Southern Tagalog activists

Dear friends,

Dear friends,

Murderous attacks against individuals defending and advancing people’s rights in the Philippines have alarmingly escalated. On March 7, 2021, police and military raids across four provinces throughout the Southern Tagalog region have led to the killing of nine individuals in what is now known as the “Bloody Sunday” raids, namely fisherfolk leaders Ariel Evangelista and Anna Mariz Lemita-Evangelista, progressive leader Emmanuel Asuncion, housing rights advocates Melvin Dasigao and Mark Bacasno, Dumagat farmers Randy and Puroy Dela Cruz, and Abner and Edward Esto. Four were also arrested: labor leaders Esteban Mendoza, Elizabeth Camoral, and Eugene Eugenio; and human rights worker Nimfa Lanzanas.

The raids were reportedly conducted as part of the joint operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army under Case Operation Plan ASVAL against individuals and organizations that they have red-tagged as members or fronts of “communist terrorist groups.” On March 5, two days before the raids, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the police and military to “kill” and “finish off” all communist rebels should they find themselves in an armed encounter, and to “forget human rights” in the process.

The said police and military operations are similar to those conducted in Negros Island and recently, in December 2020, in Metro Manila and in Capiz, Iloilo. Just like the previous raids against the offices of people’s organizations and homes of human rights activists were conducted in the past four years of the Duterte administration, State forces forcibly entered their homes and offices at early dawn through search warrants issued by Manila and Antipolo City courts, similar to the search warrants issued by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 89. State forces claimed that the nine killed during the raids resisted arrest or “nanlaban” and exchanged gunfire, and that firearms and explosives were recovered from those arrested. Testimonies from their families, witnesses, and neighbors, however, disprove these claims, asserting that they were mercilessly killed and the firearms and explosives recovered from the raids were planted.

According to Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez, the PNP applied for 72 search warrants for the March 7 incidents. Of the 63 applications in the Manila RTC, 42 were granted, while out of the nine filed before Antipolo RTC, four were granted. There is a strong fear that there are more warrants and raids to follow in the region.

Prior to March 7, labor activists Ramir Corcolon and Arnedo Lagunias, both based in Laguna province, were arrested on March 4 by police and military operatives, using search warrants in a Laguna court.

On March 28, trade union leader Dandy Miguel was shot eight times and killed, after he got off work in Laguna. On March 30, an abandoned office of Southern Tagalog labor alliance Pamantik was raided in Laguna.

Today, we urgently ask you to stand with us against the increasing weaponization of the courts and warrants in the Duterte administration’s worsening — and deadly — crackdown against human rights defenders in the Philippines.

The bloody police raids throughout the Southern Tagalog region last March 7 and attacks against activists in the region clearly show that, even without the formal declaration of Marcosian martial law, the Duterte government is launching a massive and violent campaign of repression and vilification against human rights activists through highly questionable and baseless searches and arrests by the military and the police. The United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed deep worry that the latest killings “indicate an escalation of violence, intimidation harassment and ‘red tagging’ of human rights defenders” in the Philippines.

Human rights defenders red-tagged by the State security forces as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA) or the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are being mercilessly killed or end up in prison over fabricated charges. It is a concern that Karapatan has repeatedly raised: that the policy and practice of red-tagging puts people’s lives, security, and liberties at grave risk.

These arrests and killings vividly manifest the rapidly deteriorating crisis of political repression and criminalization of dissent in the Philippines. The Duterte government continues to weaponize the law and various legal machinations to achieve its end goal: the silencing of its critics, and to promote and perpetuate a form of governance that violates people’s rights and is intolerant of any form of dissent. The persecution against dissenters is orchestrated through its various policies, especially Executive Order No. 70 which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), counterinsurgency Joint Campaign Plan Kapanatagan, and the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act, a broadly-opposed legislation that has been widely criticized and condemned as a draconian measure that will dangerously infringe on Filipinos’ hard-won rights and freedoms.

We call on all our fellow human rights advocates, communities and institutions to join us in calling on the Philippine government to stop the killings and arrests of activists, human rights defenders, and political dissenters. We enjoin everyone to release statements of support for those arrested and encourage our networks to pursue independent investigations on the human rights situation and the crackdown on human rights defenders in the Philippines.

You can view the PDF copy of the urgent appeal below. You can also download it through this link.