After admitting recently before the United Nations Human Rights Council that “lapses” have been committed in the brutal campaign against illegal drugs, the government may also have to look into similar lapses or abuses in counterinsurgency operations.
Last Sunday was a bloody one in Calabarzon. Two days after President Duterte announced in a speech that he had instructed the military and police, in case of armed encounters, to “really kill” and finish off communist rebels, nine people were shot dead in the region that encompasses the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon.
Philippine National Police officials said the PNP teams served search warrants for firearms and explosives, and the fatalities were killed when they fought back. Six were killed in Rizal, two in Batangas and one in Cavite. Several others were arrested in Laguna and Rizal. Among the fatalities were a coordinator of militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and a couple belonging to environmental group Umalpas Ka.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who had briefed the UN rights council on the conduct of the war on drugs, expressed dismay over the killings and tasked the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the deaths, which the PNP says stemmed from legitimate security operations.
The country has become a murder capital in the region. A day after the killings, Calbayog City Mayor Ronaldo Aquino was shot dead together with his driver, a municipal police chief and three others in what the PNP described as a shootout with a police team. Curiously, witnesses said the killers wore bonnets to conceal their identity.
For a supposed shootout with cops, it’s also notable that the police did not surround the van of their foe when the alleged encounter was over. No police cordon was set up to preserve evidence. And clearly, there was no attempt to save lives of anyone who might have been caught in the crossfire. Instead the mayor was found dead by passersby inside the van that was heavily riddled with bullets.
In the two cases, will the full picture of what happened ever come out? The government is professing adherence to the rule of law and promising investigations to ferret out the truth. Lethal violence cannot be the SOP in law enforcement in this country.