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Gov’t investigating death of activists in Calabarzon raids

March 08, 2021 - Monday 11:03 PM by PNA

Article Banner Image STATE OBLIGATION. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque assures during his virtual press briefing on Monday (March 8, 2021) that the government has an obligation to investigate the killing of at least nine activists in a series of raids conducted by the police in Calabarzon. He said it will be included in investigations being conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ)-led drug war review panel. (Screengrab from PCOO/RTVM)

MANILA – The national government is investigating the death of at least nine activists in a series of raids conducted by the police in Laguna, Rizal, Batangas, and Cavite provinces, Malacañang said Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this remark after human rights groups denounced the killing of activists, which took place two days after President Rodrigo Duterte told state forces to “kill, kill, kill” communist rebels in an encounter.

"Doon sa mga napatay na aktibista, ang obligasyon ng estado po iimbestigahan at kung may makita nila na meron talagang dapat parusahan ang obligasyon ay lilitisin at paparusahan ang mga pumatay (For the activists who were killed, it is the obligation of the state to investigate and if they see that someone should be punished, it is their obligation to put them on trial and punish them),” he said in a Palace press briefing.

He assured the killing of nine activists will be included in investigations being conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ)-led drug war review panel created to reinvestigate the 5,655 deaths in police drug war operations.

“I am absolutely certain na kasama po ito sa mga kasong iimbestigahan dahil obligasyon po ‘yan ng estado na mag-imbestiga at lumitis sa mga gumagawa ng ordinaryong krimen na murder (that these will be among the cases to be investigated because it is the obligation of the state to investigate and put on trial those committing ordinary crimes such as murder),” he added.

Roque, a human rights lawyer, also defended Duterte’s “kill, kill, kill” remark, stressing that the killing of armed rebels by soldiers is allowed under international humanitarian law.

“Ang order po ni Presidente 'kill, kill, kill' legal po 'yan dahil ang kaniyang sinabing 'kill, kill, kill' ay yung mga rebelede na meron pong hawak na armas (The President’s order to ‘kill, kill, kill’ is legal because he was referring to rebels with arms),” he said.

He said killing of members of the New People’s Army-Communist Party of the Philippines (NPA-CPPA) is justifiable if it is necessary, proportionate, and if it will achieve complete subjugation of the enemy.

“Under IHL po, tama yung order ng Presidente, 'kill, kill, kill' kasi nga po kapag merong labanan, kapag ang kalaban mo may baril na puwede kang patayin, alangan naman ikaw ay nag-antay na ikaw ang mabaril at mapatay. Hindi po paglabag ng batas, international humanitarian law, kapag nagpaputok ang sundalo sa isang armadong NPA fighter at mapatay ang NPA fighter (Under IHL, the President’s ‘kill, kill, kill’ order is correct because if there is a war and if your enemy has a weapon they can use to kill you, it’s not as if you’re going to wait to be shot and killed. It’s not a violation of international humanitarian law for a soldier to shoot and kill an NPA fighter),” he added.

He also assured that the government continues to take steps to address the threat of terrorism and violent extremism in the country.

Slow justice system

Amid criticism over the pace in which killings of activists are being investigated, Roque admitted that the country’s justice system needs a lot of work.

“I will not pretend na wala tayong problema sa ating sistema ng katarungan (that we don’t have any problems with our justice system). Maguindanao massacre, the worst killing ever in peace time in Philippine history took more than 10 years to finish starting from the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the judgement was handed down in the administration of President (Rodrigo) Duterte. So hindi talaga katangga-tanggap na mabagal na usad ng kasong kriminal sa Pilipinas (So the slow criminal justice system is unacceptable) but that’s something that all branches of government will have to deal with, not just the executive,” he said.

He also noted that the executive and judicial branches of government were working together to expedite the hearing of these cases.

“That’s how the wheel of justice operates. It’s not instant justice ala kangaroo court ng (of the) NPA. It takes time. But we are taking steps even with the support and cooperation of the judicial branch of government to expedite the hearing of these cases,” he said. 

CHR may conduct own probe

Roque welcomed calls for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to conduct their own investigation into the killing of nine activists.

"Ang CHR is independent. If they want to cooperate in the investigation, they can,” he said.

He added that ongoing investigation could be completed faster with help of the independent constitutional office.

“Sa aking karanasan sa CHR talaga namang kinakailangan din itaas ang antas ng mga kakayahan na magimbestiga ng ating mga imbestigador sa CHR. Pero sa’kin siguro po kung magtulong-tulong sila siguro mas mapapabilis ang ating imbestigasyon (From my experience at the CHR, they also need to raise the standard of their abilities to investigate. But if they help each other, perhaps the investigation will speed up),” he said.

However, he said there is no need for the Palace to compel police and military to cooperate with CHR in the conduct of its own probe.

“No need because the police, [National Bureau of Investigation] know how to conduct the investigation. Antayin nalang nila ang resulta (They can just wait for the results) and they can validate on the basis of their own investigation,” he said.

Lay down your arms

Roque also shrugged off the statement made by Bayan Muna Rep. and House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate on the alleged "Tokhang-style simultaneous raids in Southern Tagalog."

“Nalilito kasi si Congressman Zarate kasi hindi natin sigurado kung sino talaga ang pinaninindigan ‘yan. Pero ang sabi ni Presidente, hindi lang po siya aktibista, kabahagi siya ng mga rebelde na merong mga armas (Congressman Zarate is confused because he doesn’t know what he stands for. But the President said he’s not just an activist but also among the rebels with arms),” he said.

Last December, Duterte labelled Zarate as a “co-conspirator” of NPA who used rebel taxation to pay for his son’s education in Europe.

Meanwhile, Roque also encouraged members of the CPP-NPA to lay down their arms and return to the folds of the law.

Ang hamon ko dun sa mga meron pang mga armas at sumusuporta dun sa may mga armas, nasaan po ang pagmamahal sa bayan na hinahayaan natin ang Pilipino pumapatay ng kapwa Pilipino? Magaling naman po kayo mangampanya sa eleksyon, napakadami niyo nang party-list. Ba’t hindi nalang tayo purely parliamentarian struggle? Laos na po yang mga armed struggle na ‘yan (My challenge to those who have arms and conspire with those with arms, where is your love for the country if you allow Filipinos to kill fellow Filipinos? You are good at campaigning for elections, there are so many of you in party-list. Why don’t you just engage in parliamentarian struggle? Armed struggle is outdated),” he said.

CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. Azer Parrocha