Senators assailed security forces last March 7 in the suspicious killings of nine militant leaders and the arrest of six others during raids in several provinces in Calabarzon after President Rodrigo Duterte issued an order to go against communist rebels.

Two days prior to the slaying, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered police and military to “shoot and kill right away” communist rebels who are armed and “don’t mind human rights.”

But Malacañang justified Duterte’s “kill, kill, kill” order against communist rebels, saying such a directive is legal under the International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

But Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the only  justification to kill an adversary is in self- defense. 

“That said, it may not be proper to make premature conclusions and claims about the Calabarzon raids at this time, lest they affect the conduct of official investigations by the appropriate agencies,” added Lacson, a former police chief.

Sen. Leila de Lima said she doesn’t find it a coincidence that the slayings happened in the provinces under the jurisdiction of the AFP Southern Luzon Commander Lt. General Antonio Parlade, Jr., the apparent poster boy for the Duterte regime’s brutal anti-insurgency campaign. 

De Lima said Parlade might be currently banned from red-tagging on Facebook but trust him to turn a day of rest and prayer into a bloody Sunday, Tokhang style. 

“And this happened while a Blue Mass for police officers sa Manila Cathedral was happening,” said De Lima

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he found the killings very disturbing. “Every life is precious. Peace and order and not killings is the mandate of policemen. Many have been dying from typhoons, and other disasters and accidents. Let not the policemen be the cause of death of our people.”

To prevent such  disregard for human life, the Philippine National Police (PNP) must use the PHP289-million body-worn cameras that it purchased in 2019, said Pangilinan.

Pangilinan said the PNP and other law enforcement agencies should explain what happened to the budget for body camera appropriated for them as early as 2017. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Southern Tagalog lost nine of its community organizers because of this administration’s high level of disrespect towards basic human rights.

According to Hontiveros, there is no denying that “this scale of violence, injustice, and impunity” is being perpetrated by this administration. 

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia on March 8 said they will pursue independent investigations on simultaneous crackdown operations.  She said they found the number of deaths “most concerning” considering the pattern of “prevalent red-tagging and escalating attacks against activists.”

“Despite several commitments by the Philippine government — domestically and internationally — to uphold, respect, and protect human rights, we have yet to see a concrete response to our repeated plea for tangible reduction of violence on the ground,” De Guia said in a statement.

Meanwhile, former vice-president Jejomar Binay said there are set procedures for serving warrants but according to eyewitnesses, these were not followed by the police.

PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas insisted the simultaneous operations in Southern Tagalog region that led to the killing and arrest of several activists were “legitimate.”

Human Rights Watch is seriously concerned about reports of raids conducted by law enforcement authorities that resulted in activists’ deaths in the provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Batangas, and Rizal. 

Based on these reports, these raids appear to be part of a coordinated plan by the authorities to raid, arrest, and even kill activists in their homes and offices.

These incidents are clearly part of the government’s increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign aimed at eliminating the 52-year-old communist insurgency. But the campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and non-combatant activists, labor leaders, and human rights advocates.