US group sees expansion of PH drug war killings to crackdown on Left
MANILA, Philippines – Attacks on civilians in the Philippines now included the killing of members and leaders of protest groups branded as communists, aggravating the violence arising from the government’s bloody campaign against drugs and increasing risks of a free fall to authoritarian rule, according to a United States-based conflict research and analysis group.
In its 2019 mid-year report, the group Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled), said violence in the Philippines aimed at mainly civilian targets was one of 10 “conflict events” to watch out for in the world.
Acled said the first half of 2019 saw at least 900 fatalities in a continuing cycle of violence in the Philippines that at first targeted suspects in the drug trade but has extended to suspected communist rebels.
The group counted at least 450 cases of violence targeted at civilians across the Philippines in the first half of 2019 alone.
In a summary of the Acled report, Sam Jones, Acled communications director, said in an e-mail to INQUIRER.net that in the first half of 2019 alone, more than 500 fatalities were civilians killed “in connection with direct, targeted attacks,” meaning they were not caught in the crossfire but were the actual targets.
Behind the killings
The report, entitled “Ten Conflicts to Worry About in 2019,” said “state forces” are linked to more than 300 “targeted killings” while militias or anti-drug vigilantes were being linked to 200 civilian fatalities.
“A key part of Duterte’s agenda has been the ‘war on drugs’ in which extrajudicial killings of alleged drug suspects have been ongoing,” said the Acled report.
“Violence against civilians has also extended outside of the targeting of drug suspects as many activists and groups labeled as leftists continue to be targeted in a practice known as ‘Red-tagging’,” it added.
The mid-year report, sent by e-mail to INQUIRER.net, said as a result of Red-tagging, several activists had already been killed since the start of 2019, Acled said. One of the activists attacked was Brandon Lee, a Filipino-American on an exposure trip to the Cordillera, who survived gunshots but is in critical condition.
“In the same vein, a number of farmers in the Philippines have been targeted and killed after being accused of supporting the communist armed group New People’s Army,” it said. Several farmers had been killed in Bukidnon province after they were suspected of aiding or being active NPA members.
The report said there was not likely to be any formidable challenge, however, to the practice of Red-tagging and the continued spiral of violence related to the campaign against drugs as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been able to consolidate power following the results of the midterm elections last May, which saw Duterte candidates thrashing the opposition.
“The midterm elections have allowed Duterte to continue pursuing his political agenda with little challenge,” said the Acled report.
“Duterte’s consolidation of power will allow him to continue prosecuting his ‘war on drugs’ resulting in the continued targeting of civilians,” the report said.
Duterte won the 2016 presidential elections on a platform that promised brutal policies against crimes and drug trafficking. He tried to deliver on his campaign promise, launching what could be the Philippines’ bloodiest campaign against drugs but admitting later he could not deliver on his pledge to eradicate the drug menace in six months or even until the end of his term in 2022.
In the meantime, police counted at least 5,000 drug suspects dead in clashes with law enforcers while human rights groups said at least 20,000 are already dead in the bloody campaign, mostly victims of summary killings.
While critics assailed Duterte’s tack on criminality as rife with human rights violations, the Philippine National Police pointed to data which it said would show that Duterte’s brutal approach to crimes and drugs was working.
The PNP in a recent report said index crimes were down by as high as 12 percent since Duterte assumed office in July 2016.
The Acled report pinned the situation in the Philippines along with nine other conflict events elsewhere in the world and the risks these presented.
The conflict in Syria, it said, was “most likely to see a shift to mass repression.” In the Sahel, a region between the Sahara and Sudanese Savanna, conflict was likely to become 2019’s geopolitical dilemma. In Libya, fighting was likely to fragment loose alliances of armed groups. Sudan, the report said, was most at risk of government collapse because of conflict.
Afghanistan was most likely to suffer from internal geopolitics. Myanmar, it said, was most likely to see wider ethnic armed conflict. Iraq, it said, was likely to return to civil war. The Philippines, the report said, was “most likely to see an increase in authoritarianism.”
Targeted killings of civilians in the Philippines was flagged by Acled in an earlier report because the number of deaths exceeded that in countries where there are active wars and gunfights are widespread.
Dr. Roudabeh Kishi, head of research of Acled, said “the fact that the Philippines—a country not in the midst of large scale conventional war—reports higher levels of direct civilian targeting this year (2019) than contexts like Afghanistan or Somalia with active warfare is quite damning.”
“Other countries may dominate international headlines but it important to remember that civilians in the Philippines continue to be at heightened risk,” Kishi said in an earlier e-mail to INQUIRER.net.
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