9 dead as police crackdown vs activists in Southern Tagalog

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Fishers group PAMALAKAYA, Anakpawis, and peasant groups gather at the Commission on Human Rights to condemn the deadly crackdown in Southern Tagalog. The Sunday bloody carnage killed known activist leaders, and arrested many other progressives.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 8) — The Philippine National Police reported that nine people were killed in separate operations in Calabarzon provinces on Sunday. At least seven of the dead were identified by human rights group Karapatan as members of progressive and indigenous groups.

The crackdown took place two days after President Rodrigo Duterte said he told the military and police who encounter armed communist rebels "to make sure they kill them."

The PNP said Monday that of the fatalities, six were recorded in Rizal, two in Batangas, and one in Cavite. Meanwhile, six people were arrested, three each in Laguna and Rizal.

Nine people are still at large: eight in Rizal and one in Batangas, it added.

No names and other details about the operations were released apart from saying these were "search warrant operations." Police added explosives and assorted firearms were also seized.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' New Day on Monday, Laguna Police Spokesperson PltCol. Chitadel Gaoira said 24 search warrant operations were conducted over the weekend but maintained that all of them were "legitimate."

"As far as the PNP is concerned, this is a legitimate operation. We have the search warrant, the order from the court. We just implemented the search warrant," she said.

However, she admitted that they have not yet properly established whether the suspects can be linked to previous crimes and if they are affiliated with any groups.

"Based on our records, a crime is usually committed with these firearms, with these instruments so we have these operations. We don't want to wait for the suspects to use these explosives and loose firearms in criminal or illegal activities," Gaoira said.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay condemned the operations, calling them “Gestapo-esque police raids" that turned the day into a "Bloody Sunday."

Among those killed were Chai Lemita-Evangelista, Ariel Evangelista, and Michael Dasigao, Karapatan said on its Facebook page.

The Evangelistas were part of the staff of Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA). Karapatan Timog Katagalugan said their bodies were found at a funeral home in Nasugbu.

Dasigao was a member of SIKKAD K3 in Montalban, the group said. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas identified Mark Lee Bacasno, another SIKKAD K3 member who was shot dead in the operation.

Fishers group PAMALAKAYA identified Emmanuel "Manny" Asuncion as among the fatalities. He was the secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Cavite.

Karapatan also identified indigenous group leaders Puroy dela Cruz and Randy dela Cruz as among those killed in the Rizal operation.

The group added that those arrested included Courage-Rizal member Eugene Eugenio; Esteban Mendoza, executive vice president of Olalia KMU; Elizabeth Camoral, BAYAN Laguna Spokesperson; and Nimfa Lanzanas, paralegal aide to political prisoners.

"All of those who were arrested and killed in Calabarzon starting Thursday up to Sunday, all of them were legal activists," Renato Reyes, Secretary General of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan said in virtual news conference. "They were unarmed, they were legal activists known by their communities...they are not personalities of alleged terrorists groups as the PNP claims."

Meanwhile, in separate statements, progressive groups slammed the crackdown, calling them a result of President Rodrigo Duterte's statements.

"After Duterte pronounced in a gathering his desire to kill all communists, state forces launched coordinated attacks against unionists and activists in Southern Tagalog," read a statement from labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno.

KMU described the events as a "human rights emergency that merits the attention of the entire Filipino people and the international community."

PAMALAKAYA said, "The bloody crackdown against Southern Tagalog activists which led to killing of prominent leaders came at the heels of President Duterte's marching order to his forces to kill all the rebels, and disregard the human rights. What's worse is those who have been killed were all legal democratic activists involved in various cause-oriented issues."

The Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women, and the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines also released statements condemning what happened.

In his briefing on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said authorities will conduct an investigation on the matter. However, he maintained that Duterte's order to shoot and kill armed rebels is "legal" and in line with the International Humanitarian Law.

READ: Malacañang vows probe on deaths of activists in Calabarzon

Presiding over a meeting of national and regional officials of the government’s anti-communist task force on Friday in Cagayan de Oro City, Duterte offered free housing and jobs to communist rebels who will surrender.

But for rebels who will not surrender, Duterte said he ordered the police and military to "make sure to kill them” during encounters if they see them with firearms.

CNN Philippines' Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.