Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Date: 9 march 2021
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 in the Philippines in the early hours of Sunday morning.
According to information we have received, the eight men and one woman were killed in joint police and military operations that reportedly began around 3:15am on Sunday to execute search warrants issued by a Manila court. We understand that among those killed were labour rights activist Emanuel Asuncion, as well as husband and wife Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista, who worked on issues relating to the rights of fishing communities, and were reportedly shot inside their home. Two others, Melvin Dasigao and Mark Lee Coros Bacasno were activists advocating for housing rights of people rendered homeless. Two indigenous peoples' activists and two housing rights activists were also among those killed. Six people were reportedly arrested during the operations.
The Government has informed us that the operation was based on search warrants issued in the context of its counter-insurgency campaign against the New People's Army. The execution of search warrants, often conducted at night-time, has resulted in killings on previous occasions. On 30 December 2020, nine Tumandok indigenous peoples' rights activists were killed during joint operations to execute search warrants in Panay.
We welcome the Government's commitment to investigate these cases, which will be a critical test for the domestic investigative mechanisms it has established for cases of this kind. The United Nations is working with the Government to strengthen these mechanisms, but we stress that these must be prompt, transparent and effective in order to meet international standards. The High Commissioner's June 2020 Human Rights Council report on the Philippines documented a serious lack of due process in police operations, and near-total impunity for the use of lethal force by the police and the military.
We urge the police to take urgent measures to prevent the use of excessive force resulting in loss of lives during law enforcement operations. 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.
We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation, harassment and "red-tagging" of human rights defenders. There is a history of human rights advocates being "red-tagged" – or being accused of being fronts for the armed wing of the Communist party. In the June 2020 report, the High Commissioner warned that such public labelling has proved extremely dangerous and urged the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and others at risk. In recent months, there have been dozens of activists and several journalists arrested, including on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2020.
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