STATEMENT - THE OBSERVATORY
Paris-Geneva, August 6, 2021 – Five months after the deadly crackdown on human rights defenders conducted by the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army in Calabarzon region, the authorities have failed to identify all those responsible for the killings and bring them before justice, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH) denounced today. Violence against human rights defenders must stop immediately and all attacks against them must be duly investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted.
On March 7, 2021, two days after President Duterte ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army (PA) to “ignore human rights” and “kill” and “finish off” communist rebels in any armed encounters with them, members of both forces carried out a joint operation in Calabarzon region against alleged members of “communist and terrorist groups”.
The coordinated raids in the offices and homes of several human rights defenders and indigenous peoples left nine of them killed – human rights defenders Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion, Ana Marie “Chai” Lemita-Evangelista, Ariel Evangelista, Melvin Dasigao, and Mark Lee “Makmak” Coros Bacasno, and indigenous farmers Abner Esto, Edward Esto, Dumagats Puroy and Randy Dela Cruz. Four other defenders were arbitrarily detained on charges of “illegal possession of firearms and ammunition”, namely Esteban “Steve” Mendoza, Elizabeth “Mags” Camoral, Nimfa Lanzanas, and Eugene Eugenio. Mr. Mendoza and Ms. Lanzanas remain detained in Camp Vicente Lim, in Laguna Province, while Ms. Camoral and Ms. Eugenio were released on bail pending investigation.
The Department of Justice of the Philippines endorsed the investigation of what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” to the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons (AO 35 Committee). Yet, five months after the above-referenced events, there has not been any significant development in the investigations, thus consolidating the persisting impunity for the use of lethal force by the police and the military in the Philippines. Moreover, the crime scenes were contaminated and, according to the families of the victims, the entry and exit gunshot wounds on their bodies had been sutured before an independent autopsy could be performed.
The Observatory condemns the impunity for the extra-judicial killings of the above-mentioned human rights defenders and urges the authorities of the Philippines to carry out thorough, impartial, and transparent investigations into the use of lethal force in the raids, to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and punish them as provided by the law. The Observatory further calls on the authorities to immediately release all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the Philippines and to put an end to all acts of judicial harassment against them.
The Observatory recalls that since President Duterte took power in June 2016, human rights defenders have faced relentless vilification and red-tagging with the aim to discredit their peaceful work and to silence all critical voices, thus creating a climate in which attacks against them are acceptable and legitimised.
The Observatory reiterates its utmost concern over the ongoing killings and attacks against human rights defenders in the Philippines, and calls upon the authorities to adopt effective measures to ensure their protection and proper and effective investigations into such killings and attacks.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.