CHR to help gov’t resolve activist killings but insists on danger of red-tagging
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has assured the government that it remains open to help resolve numerous violations of human rights but insists on the danger of red-tagging.
The CHR said on Thursday that red-tagging or linking activists to the communist movement puts lives in danger.
Several groups have insisted that human rights workers who were killed have been red-tagged prior to attacks, like in the case of Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan of Negros Oriental’s local government and paralegal staffer Zara Alvarez — who were both killed by unknown assailants. International bodies likewise condemned the killing of nine activists in the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) region last Sunday,
“The [CHR] remains open in helping the government address the many forms of human rights violations happening in the country, including the string of arrests and deaths of several activists in Calabarzon,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.
“At the same time, we have strongly cautioned the government against using words and pronouncements that may encourage impunity and violence, such as encouragement to kill and disregard human rights. Thus far, red-tagging has shown how it puts the lives of activists and human rights defenders at risk, with others suffering harassment, intimidation, and even death,” she added.
According to De Guia, assurances from the government — that they will continue to protect and remain committed to upholding human rights — have no bearing if allegations of rights abuses still continue.
Still, the CHR thanked Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra for taking the initiative to probe the incident that happened during a legitimate police operation. Guevarra said on Monday that the task force assigned to probe extrajudicial killings would conduct its own investigation on the incident.
The CHR is conducting its own investigation of the killings.
“We have repeatedly urged the government to translate commitments to respect and uphold human rights to actual reduction of violence on the ground. Words will mean nothing if deaths and violations of human rights will continue to persist,” she explained.
“We welcome the pronouncements from the Secretary of Justice, Menardo Guevarra, that they shall be investigating the case of arrests and deaths in Calabarzon,” she added.
Last Tuesday, the United Nations said that it was “appalled” by the killing of nine activists from Rizal, Cavite, and Laguna last Sunday, during police operations authorized by a search warrant.
On Wednesday, the European Union (EU) delegation in the country welcomed the government’s assurance of a probe, while reminding that the government has already expressed commitment to protecting human rights and ensuring accountability for abuses.
Despite outcry from progressive groups, the Philippine National Police (PNP) maintains that the operations were legitimate and that the activists fought back.
The CHR also stressed that the government must continue with other investigations centering on supposed extrajudicial killings and those based on claims that the suspects fought back.
“CHR also encourages the continuing probe of all deaths said to have resulted because the victims fought back or those said to be ‘nanlaban—may they be in the context of the anti-drug campaign, in serving warrants, or in other police and military operations,” De Guia said.
“(The) CHR, as the country’s independent national human rights institution, looks forward to a meaningful engagement with the Philippine Government. As the government claims a functioning CHR in the country, we hope that we can finally hurdle restrictions on accessing case files and information on the many human rights violations we also seek to investigate in the interest of truth and seeking justice,” she added.
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