DOJ: Police, soldiers face probe for activists’ slay
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday said there was “sufficient evidence” that the nine activists who were killed during last weekend’s security operations belonged to groups engaged in “legitimate dissent,” contrary to police claims that they were armed insurgents who resisted arrest.
Guevarra said the police and soldiers who took part in the early Sunday simultaneous operations in provinces near Manila would be investigated in the deaths of the activists by an interagency committee (IAC), which was created in 2012 to look into grave human rights violations and headed by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Police Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, spokesperson for the Philippine National Police, on Thursday said the slain activists were “indeed” members of the New People’s Army “hiding behind the façade of being activists” who “wanted to shoot it out with our troops.”
The police raids in the provinces of Cavite, Batangas and Rizal were backed by the military.
“The DOJ will endorse the investigation to the committee as there is sufficient evidence that the victims were members of cause-oriented groups carrying out legitimate dissent,” Guevarra said.
The IAC, which includes the PNP, was formed under Administrative Order No. 35 to look into extralegal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave human rights violations.
Before Sunday’s raids, President Duterte ordered security forces to kill communist rebels and “don’t mind human rights.”
A day after the killings of the activists, however, Guevarra expressed dismay that the deaths came less than two weeks after he reported to the United Nations Human Rights Council that police officers involved in thousands of bloody antidrug operations had flouted existing protocols.
“I am quite disappointed because these incidents kept happening notwithstanding the things I mentioned before the international body,” Guevarra said.
‘Hard answers’ sought“I was really hoping that with that statement I made before the UN, our law enforcers would be more careful in their operations.”
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said at a press briefing on Friday that Guevarra clearly wanted to get “hard answers” from law enforcers.
“The justice secretary has been outspoken in his observation that there are instances when the [PNP] does not comply with [standard operating procedures], and this shows that the investigation of the AO 35 interagency committee would be fair, thorough and just,” Roque said at a press briefing.
The killing of the activists during the service of search warrants has drawn concern and rebuke from international groups.
On Tuesday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was “appalled by the apparently arbitrary killing” of the activists during the police search for firearms and explosives.
Malacañang said the government should be allowed to investigate the incident first and promised that those found liable would be punished.
Must submit affidavits
Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said the IAC would require policemen and soldiers involved in the operations to submit sworn affidavits.
“There has been an allegation that these people (activists) have been engaged in terrorist activities when the police arrived. There has also been an allegation that they were not engaged in anything illegal,” Sugay told reporters.
“That presents an urgent need to activate (the IAC’s) fact-finding mechanisms,” he said.
Sugay said the investigation would allow state forces to answer accusations that they violated the law in carrying out the joint operations, which Vice President Leni Robredo had condemned as a “massacre.”
“Since there were deaths, all aspects of the police operations must be open to examination,” he said.
Sugay added that investigating killings would require “a lot of time, resources and preparation for case buildup” and investigators should not be put under “undue pressure.”
“We do not want to trip over anything when we rush things. We want a full, thorough and complete investigation that will hold up in court and result in justice for the victims and accountability for the system,” he said. —WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA
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