De Lima bats for quick probe on killings of Tumandok tribe members
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Leila de Lima is calling on the government to quickly and thoroughly investigate the death of Tumandok tribe members during a police operation against alleged loose firearms.
According to De Lima — if the reports that she received were correct — then the incident involving indigenous people (IPs) from the Panay Island is reminiscent of “tokhang”-style killings where suspects are killed if they resisted arrest.
De Lima, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and his war against illegal drugs, has been detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center for drug-related charges.
“I join the call for a prompt and thorough investigation into the killings of 9 Tumandok leaders and the arrest of 17 others on December 30 by combined forces of the AFP and the PNP in Panay,” De Lima said in a statement from her detention cell.
“If the reports I received were accurate, the killings were done ‘tokhang’ style, with State forces barging into their homes at dawn, under the pretext of serving warrants, and eventually killing them because they allegedly resisted arrest. A familiar scenario that has been happening over and over again. These leaders were all victims of rabid red-tagging,” she added.
Before 2020 ended, activist groups condemned the killings of the Tumandok tribe leaders and members in Capiz, claiming that they are merely defending their ancestral land.
According to rights group Karapatan, nine members of the Tumandok tribe were killed while 17 others were arrested allegedly in a joint operation of the military and the police.
Reports on Thursday night showed that the operation was led by the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Battalion.
While relatives and witnesses claim that the victims did not resist arrest and that the pieces of evidence like firearms were planted, police insist that it was a regular operation against loose firearms and that the victims — supposedly members of the New People’s Army — opened fire at the law enforcers.
Western Visayas CIDG chief Col. Gervacio Balmaceda said on Wednesday that several firearms and explosives were seized from the homes of those killed and arrested.
“The nine died when they fired at positions of law enforcement officers,” Balmaceda said.
De Lima said that it is as if the administration cannot get enough of the attacks committed all throughout the year.
“Is a year of bloodbath not enough that it has to end with a mass murder in one day? Hindi pa ba quota ang rehimeng ito sa patayan at kailangang tapusin ang taong ito sa isang masaker ng mga pambansang minorya?” De Lima asked.
The senator further highlighted the dangers of red-tagging again — saying that the practice of linking activists to the communist armed movement can be dangerous, as exemplified by the recent deaths of red-tagged personalities.
“Red-tagging has turned into a weapon against freedoms of speech and association, and has become a veritable death sentence to critics of the government. Ka Randy Echanis was red-tagged before he was brutally murdered, and so were the others like Zara Alvarez, Agaton Topacio, Eufemia Magpantay, and Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan,” De Lima said.
“And as much as we wish that every death will be the last, we know that persecution and mayhem will persist as long as the law is being weaponized with impunity to stifle dissent,” she added.
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