Latest attack on rights defenders: 2 killed in Sorsogon
LEGAZPI CITY—Two human rights defenders were killed on Saturday (June 14) in what appeared to be the latest in a spate of attacks targeting leaders and members of human rights groups in the Philippines.
Two workers of the group Karapatan (Right) were gunned down by two men who calmly approached the victims—Nellly Bagasala and Ryan Hubilla—and shot them at close range at the village of Cabid-an in Sorsogon City, Sorsogon province.
Bagasala and Hubilla were both from Sorsogon province.
Vince Casilihan, public information officer in the Bicol region of militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said the two were Karapatan staffers in the Bicol region.
Without naming the victims, Maj. Maria Luisa Calubaquib, Bicol police spokesperson, said the shooting happened around 8:50 a.m. as Bagasala and Hubilla were paying for their tricycle fare.
Bagasala and Hubilla suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died on the spot, according to Calubaquib, referring to the human rights workers only as shooting victims in her report on the killing.
Casilihan condemned the killing and demanded justice for the two human rights workers.
The killing of Bagasala and Hubilla, said Casilihan, was but another attack on human rights defenders which he blamed on a military campaign to silence and harass members of progressive groups.
In Sorsogon province alone, at least 60 members of militant groups, including human rights defenders, have already been killed since 2016, according to Casilihan.
Casilihan said last April, Bagasala and Hubilla had reported being cased by government agents as they gathered testimony from human rights victims in Sorsogon province.
The killing of members of militant organizations had caught the attention of a group of 11 rapporteurs and investigators of the United Nations which on June 7 issued a rare joint statement calling on the UN to conduct an independent investigation of summary killings linked to the Duterte administration’s violent campaign against illegal drugs and attacks on human rights defenders in the Philippines.
Saying the number of killings has reached a “staggering” level, the rapporteurs wrote that attacks on human rights defenders appeared to be state-sanctioned which could explain the impunity with which these were being committed.
But Malacanang dismissed the joint statement, saying the UN rights experts had resorted to exaggeration and relied on false information fed to them by critics of President Rodrigo Duterte and the opposition.
Although Malacanang kept dismissing calls for an investigation of human rights abuses in the Philippines as politically motivated, Duterte himself seemed to have ignited attacks on human rights workers that he linked to the underground rebel movement.
Upon his return from India in January 2018, Duterte reiterated an order to include as targets in his all-out war on communist rebellion organizations which he said were being used by communist rebels.
“I will go after the legal fronts” of rebels, Duterte said then.
Although Duterte did not identify the groups, several left-wing organizations had protested being tagged as Reds, or members of the underground communist movement, to justify military raids or attacks on their offices, their leaders or members.
Duterte, also in January 2018, declared that his counterinsurgency target was to destroy the communist apparatus which meant “everything, all legal fronts” would be in his crosshair.
He said his order to the military was crush the rebellion “and if you have to kill, do it because human rights…if our country falls apart, they would not help.” MAR S. ARGUELLES (Editor: Tony Bergonia)
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