UN expresses alarm over CALABARZON activists' deaths

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 10)— The United Nations expressed alarm over the killing of nine activists and the arrest of six others in CALABARZON region over the weekend.

"We are appalled by the apparently arbitrary killing of nine activists in simultaneous police-military operations in Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal provinces surrounding Metro Manila," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani in a press briefing on Tuesday.

Shamdasani added the violent crackdown could further promote intimidation and "red-tagging" against activists, citing the Philippine government's record of accusing them of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

"We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation, harassment and 'red-tagging' of human rights defenders," added Shamdasani, even as she ackowledged the government's move to investigate the incidents.

At least seven of the nine casualties were identified by human rights group Karapatan as members of progressive and indigenous groups. Among those killed were Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan staff Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista, SIKKAD K3 members Michael Dasigao and Mark Lee Bacasno, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Cavite secretary general Manny Asuncion, and Dumagat tribe leaders Puroy dela Cruz and Randy dela Cruz.

Those arrested included Courage-Rizal member Eugene Eugenio, Olalia KMU executive vice president Esteban Mendoza, BAYAN Laguna spokesperson Elizabeth Camoral, and political prisoners' paralegal aide Nimfa Lanzanas.

Renato Reyes, Secretary General of the BAYAN alliance of progressive groups, said all those killed and arrested in the CALABARZON operations were legal and unarmed activists known in their communities.

RELATED: 9 dead as police crackdown vs activists in Southern Tagalog

In response to this, the Justice Department said any party – including the UN high commissioner —should first have “sufficient information before making a judgment.”

UN urged: Deploy ‘rapid response units’ to probe attacks

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch urged the UN to consider sending rapid response units to help probe the recent spate of killings of activists in the Philippines.

It noted that its human rights office is “mandated” to deploy such groups to respond to related humanitarian crises around the world.

“Philippine security force raids that killed nine activists highlight the need for United Nations member countries to decisively address the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines,” the HRW said in a separate statement.

Probe welcome

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomed the national government's move to investigate the killings as it underscored the need for a "prompt, transparent, and effective" investigation that conforms to international standards.

Shamdasani also appealed to Filipino policemen to prevent the use of excessive force during law enforcement operations, which may result in loss of lives such as those in the crackdown on activists in CALABARZON.

She cited the deaths of nine Tumandok indigenous peoples' rights activists last Dec. 30 and the arrest of some activists and journalists on Dec. 10 during the observance of the International Human Rights Day as instances where human rights defenders were "intimidated" by law enforcers.

"We also call on the Government and members of the security forces to refrain from rhetoric that may lead to violations, and instead make public commitments to uphold human rights and the rule of law," she said.

Malacañang assured the public an investigation is underway on the deaths of activists in CALABARZON, but maintained that President Rodrigo Duterte's order to shoot and kill armed rebels is "legal." Laguna Police Spokesperson PLtCol. Chitadel Gaoira said the suspects carried explosives and assorted weapons with them, which makes their operations "legitimate."

In June 2020, the UN High Commissioner's Human Rights Council report slammed the Philippine government for serious lack of due process in police operations and near-total impunity for the use of lethal force by the police and the military.