Rodrigo Duterte’s killing season now opens fire on Lumads and the Left

By Bong S Sarmiento in Mindanao

Tactics used to target Filipino drug suspects are now being deployed against leftist activists and alleged supporters of an outlawed communist movement

Last year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to bomb the schools of indigenous Lumad people in mountainous areas of the southern island of Mindanao for allegedly teaching communism to students.

The threat represented a violent reversal for the tough-talking leader, who famously said on the campaign trail in 2016 that if elected he would become the country’s first “leftist president.”

READ MORE: Manila brands volunteer teachers as ‘terrorists’, say Lumad activists

Upon taking office, the Mindanao native prioritised pursuing peace with the leftist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA). Formed in 1969, the NPA has been at war against the government ever since.

Duterte’s peace initiative, like those of his predecessors, quickly fell apart amid new firefights between rebels and government troops.

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The president abandoned the peace effort last year and designated both the CPP and NPA as “terrorist organisations”, a punitive upgrade from their previous classifications as “illegal organisations.”

The shift has opened the way for a new offensive against the country’s leftists, a campaign of harassment some see as an extension of his brutal war on drugs. ”

16,000 deaths
The anti-drug drive has resulted in as many as 16,000 deaths, many in police shoot-outs with alleged drug suspects, according to rights groups.

In January, Duterte vowed to pursue left-wing organisations for allegedly acting as fronts for the outlawed communist movement. Weeks later, Duterte stirred a backlash for his unbridled threat to “shoot in the vagina” female NPA fighters.

Duterte’s crude and violent threats against communist rebels has put leftist activists and ethnic minority Lumad communities situated in known NPA-controlled territories spread across Mindanao in the government’s firing line.

In December, eight Lumad tribe members were killed during a military operation against the NPA in Lake Sebu town in South Cotabato province. Authorities later closed the village’s school on suspicion that it was teaching communism to students.

The Save our Schools Network, an umbrella group of child-focused nongovernmental organisations and church-based groups, has documented 225 military “attacks” on Lumad schools since last year.

John Timothy Romero, spokesperson for the Centre for Lumad Advocacy, Networking and Services (CLANS), a civil society group, said 33 formal and non-formal Lumad-run schools in Central Mindanao have been closed by authorities since last year, affecting nearly 4600 primary and secondary school students.

Local military officials accused the schools of teaching subversion and communism, and justified the closures because they lacked proper Department of Education licences. Romero denied the schools were used to propagate communism, although he admitted that NPA rebels have a presence in the affected areas.

‘Caught in the war’
“We’re operating in remote mountain areas where communist rebels are around, but that does not mean that we are NPA supporters. We are just caught in the war between the military and the NPA,” he said.

A local court in Northern Luzon, an area where the NPA is also active, ordered the arrest of four prominent leftists – Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casino, Rafael Ocampo and Liza Maza – on murder charges. Maza currently heads the government’s National Anti-Poverty Commission.

The court ruled out the murder case against the four on August 13 due to insufficient evidence.

Ryan Amper, spokesperson for the Stand for Human Rights Mindanao group, stressed the crackdown against leftists, human rights activists and environmental defenders is part and parcel of the Duterte government’s rising political persecution.

Amper says that “Oplan Tokhang”, Duterte’s anti-drug policy that has morphed into a seemingly unmitigated killing spree against illegal drug users and pushers, is now being deployed against left-leaning activists, community leaders and Lumads who resist big mining and plantation operations in Mindanao.

“We have verified incidents where the military knocked on the houses of suspected NPA rebels or supporters and asked them to surrender,” Amper said.

He said in several cases those identified as NPA supporters, including some who opposed big mining operations, were eventually killed by unidentified gunmen.

State agent killers
Amper’s group has recorded at least 140 killings of activists and Lumad tribal leaders, allegedly perpetrated by state agents, since Duterte came to power.

Duterte’s anti-drug drive has killed at least 4075 in legitimate police operations, according to official data up to March 2018. More than 16,000 potentially related deaths recorded through the end of 2017 were classified as “cases under investigation.”

Oplan Tokhang was derived from the two Visayan words “toktok” (knock) and “hangyo” (plead). With tactics derived from Duterte’s Davao City when he served as mayor, the operations involve police officers knocking on the doors of alleged drug suspects and pleading for them to surrender and undergo rehabilitation.

Amber says those tactics have been transformed into “political tokhang”, whereby more than 600 mostly leftist activists in Mindanao have been slapped with allegedly fabricated charges, mostly by the military, since Duterte assumed power in June 2016.

“This political tokhang is meant to silence the dissent of activists and community leaders,’ Amper said.

Amper blamed the growing number of cases filed against activists on the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action, which was created by the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in October 2017. The mechanism aims to strengthen intelligence-gathering, investigations, prosecutions and monitoring of perceived “threat” groups in the country.

Captain Arvin Encinas, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division based in Central Mindanao, denied accusations that the military has filed fabricated charges against those critical of the government or its associated business interests.

‘Evidence-backed’
“Our charges are backed with evidence,” he said. Encinas also acknowledged that there has been a surge in cases filed against believed militants and community leaders since the military intensified its operations against the NPA in response to Duterte’s call to “crush” the insurgents.

The allegedly “manufactured” charges filed against suspected communist rebels and their activist supporters include murder, frustrated murder, serious illegal detention, alarm and scandal, public disorder, grave coercion and obstruction of justice, among others.

So far, the government has sought to declare  more than 600 individuals as “terrorists” in the mounting crackdown against the communist movement under the Human Security Act of 2007, which critics said puts named persons on a virtual “hit list” for state agents.

From a high of 25,000 combatants in the 1980s, the military estimates there are now around 3700 NPA guerillas under arms, mostly operating in Mindanao, a region prone to various types of insurgencies.

The military hopes to reduce the NPA’s numbers by half this year through programs that include payments for surrendered firearms and livelihood assistance schemes that help fighters transition to live peacefully in mainstream society.

For Amper and others, Duterte’s regime is laying the groundwork for mass arrests and even political killings by filing false charges against political dissenters.

Activists are fighting back through protests. Last month, a Lumad group barricaded the entrance of the Department of Education in Central Mindanao with a coffin bearing the remains of their dead tribal leader, Pakingan Gantangan.

Cardiac arrest
Gantangan died of cardiac arrest on July 21 while participating in a months-long picket protest seeking permits for dozens of schools serving Lumad communities that had been closed by the government for operating without licenses.

They recently dismantled their picket after reaching an agreement with education officials.

Gantangan’s daughter, Jolita Tolino, a volunteer teacher for the school operated by CLANS in their remote community in Sultan Kudarat province’s Kalamansig town, was arrested by the military earlier this year on charges of murder and frustrated murder.

Her family claims the charges are fabricated.

Bong S. Sarmiento is a Philippines-based journalist with the Asia Times.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Duterte on nationwide martial law – up to ‘enemies of the state’

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Duterte on nationwide martial law – up to ‘enemies of the state’

Martial law … “all options on the table”, says President Rodrigo Duterte. Image: Malacañang file photo from Marawi City

By Pia Ranada in Manila

President Rodrigo Duterte says he will consider nationwide martial law if the New People’s Army steps up attacks.

When asked if he would expand martial law coverage nationwide, President Duterte said “all options are on the table”.

Speaking to reporters in Taguig City last week, the President said it would be the threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA) more likely to push him to expand martial law’s geographic coverage.

READ MORE: Duterte thanks Congress for extending martial law in Mindanao

If the NPA – armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) – intensifies its recruitment of new members and steps up attacks such as they are about to topple the government, Duterte said he would consider nationwide martial law.

“If the NPA say they are recruiting in mass numbers and they create trouble and they are armed and about to destroy government, the government will not wait until the dying days of its existence,” said Duterte.

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Ultimately, he said, any decision for him to proclaim martial law across the country is “up to the enemies of the state”.

He stressed, however, that he would listen to the military and police.

“To what extent, what level of atrocities, attacks, it is not for me to say that. It is for the Armed Forces and the police,” said the President.

During the joint session where Congress debated Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao by one year, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned that the President’s recommendation sounds like a “prelude” to nationwide martial law.

Some lawmakers insist there is no legal basis for martial law extension, saying there is no state of rebellion or invasion of Mindanao.

Duterte, however, said frequent ambushes by the NPA and attacks by terrorists prove there is a state of rebellion in Mindanao.

“Count how many died there. Count how many died today all over Mindanao. My police are ambushed everyday, also my military. There is actually rebellion in Mindanao, it’s ongoing,” he said.

Congress voted overwhelmingly in favour of the martial law extension until December 31, 2018.

Pia Ranmada is a journalist for Rappler, the independent Indonesian and Philippines multimedia social action website.

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Philippine clergy appeal for justice over assassination of retired priest

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Philippine clergy appeal for justice over assassination of retired priest

The 72-year-old retired Nueva Ecija Catholic priest Marcelito ‘Tito’ Paez … dedicated most of his life to defending the rights of Filipinos. Image: File photo/Interaksyon

By InterAksyon with Cris Sansano in Manila

Nueva Ecija priests led by Bishop Robero Mallari are appealing to the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to seek justice for the death of 72-year-old retired Filipino social activist priest Marcelito “Tito” Paez who has been gunned down by unidentified assailants in Jaen town.

The slain priest visited New Zealand in November 1990 as a member of the Philippine delegation to the Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) conference at Pawarenga marae, north of Hokianga.

“Kami ay nanawagan na sa mga kinauukulan sa pamahalaan na bigyang linaw at katarungan ang kanyang kamatayan [We are calling on authorities in the government to shed light on the killing and give justice to his death],” the priests said in a statement signed yesterday by Bishop Mallari.

READ MORE: Duterte declares New People’s Army a ‘terrorist group’

Two motorcycle-riding attackers killed Paez in Sitio Sanggalang, Barangay Lambakin, on Monday.

The victim was on his way home to Barangay Baloc in Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija and was onboard a Toyota Innova with plate number AAB 2391 around 8 p.m. when the attackers shot Paez with a .45-calibre pistol.

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He was rushed to a hospital in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija, but died there while undergoing treatment.

A day before he was slain, Paez helped facilitate the release of political detainee Rommel Tucay, a peasant union organiser of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon, who was abducted and tortured in March 2017 allegedly by state security forces.

Championed peasant rights
Paez dedicated most of his life to defending the rights of Filipinos, especially the rights of poor workers and peasants, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija where Paez served as a priest starting in 1984 when the parish was established until he retired in 2015.

“Sa kanyang paglilingkod sa Simbahan, siya ay aktibong nakisangkot sa mga usaping panlipunan, lalo na sa mga usapin na may kinalaman sa karapatang pantao, magsasaka, at mahihirap [In serving the Church, he involved himself in social issues, especially on those that had to do with human rights, farmers, and the poor],” said Mallari.

The bishop added that Paez was also part of the Catholic Church’s Social Action Commission and headed a unit within it called Justice and Peace Office, whose main goal is to help ensure the rights of the poor and the marginalised, especially that of workers and farmers.

Paez, former parish priest of Guimba town, was also the coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Central Luzon.

In the 1980s, Paez also became a leader of the Central Luzon Alliance for a Sovereign Philippines, which campaigned for the removal of the US military bases in the region.

The left-leaning Bagong Alyansang Makabayan yesterday condemned “in the strongest terms” the killing of Paez, who the group said was among the founders of Bayan in Central Luzon and “the first Catholic priest to be killed under the Duterte regime”.

Bayan denounces killings
Bayan also denounced the killing of Pastor Novelito Quinones, who was slain reportedly in Mindoro last Sunday, during an anti-rebel police operation in the province.

“He was later made to appear as a member of the NPA (New People’s Army) even his congregation attests otherwise” the group said.

Bayan likewise condemned the attempt to serve a warrant of arrest against PISTON transport group leader George San Mateo “who faces trumped up charges for allegedly violating Commonwealth Act 146, a law that dates back to 1936.”

“The case is pure harassment and indication,” it said.

“These attacks come in the wake of Duterte’s threats of a crackdown of legal activists, and his slandering of mass organisations as mere legal fronts of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines),” said Bayan.

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