March 30, 2019

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – Canada (ICHRP – Canada) condemns the heinous murder of fourteen agricultural workers by the Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday in Negros Oriental. The 14 people killed in an alleged anti-criminality campaign in Negros Oriental were farmers who were massacred by the police on March 29, 2019.

According to Provincial Police Director, Colonel Raul Tacaca, eight suspects were killed in Canlaon City, four in Manjuyod town, and two in Sta. Catalina town. Tacaca claimed that the victims were resisting arrest during police operations against “hard-core criminals.” A similar refrain has been sounded in the tens of thousands of deaths attributed to police in Duterte’s War on Drugs.

Human rights and farmers’ groups contend the police allegations. They maintain that the operations targeted political activists and government critics. According to them, leaders of local peasant organizations who had long been tagged by government forces as “legal fronts” of the communist rebel movement were among those killed and arrested.

The killings happened Friday night at around midnight, when more than 10 uniformed personnel entered the home.The known victims who were all farmers from different villages near Canlaon City include:

Edgardo Avelino, head of a local farmers’ group
Ismael Avelinio, 53 years old
Melchor Pañares, 67 years old
Mario Pañares, 46 years old
Rogelio Ricomuno, 52 years old,
Ricky Ricomuno, 28 years old
Gonzalo Rosales, 47 years old
Genes Palmares, 54 years old
Two of the dead were reportedly local village leaders. Catholic Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of Canlaon reports that one of those killed was a lay minister in Canlaon Parish and the parish vouches for his moral character”

The ages of the victims also belay the military’s claims that those killed were partisans of the New People’s Army. Most of the victims were killed as they slept which belie the claim of the police that they were fighters who died in a firefight with government forces.

This is not an isolated incident. Twelve other individuals were arrested, as the police operations continued as of this filing. One of the arrested was Azucena Garubat, chairperson of a local farmers’ group, who was earlier reported missing in Canlaon.

These shocking events are the brutal result of the Duterte Regime’s ill-advised policy of impunity for the Philippine police and military in its ongoing crack down of progressive and activist organizations following Duterte’s decision to end peace talks with the National Democratic Front in November 2017. Since then, government forces have escalated its brutal campaign of intimidation against opponents of the regime especially farmers, indigenous peoples and environmental activists. Aleast 180 farmers have been killed under the Duterte administration, 40 of which were from Negros. The Duterte regime is transforming Negros Island into a killing field.

The massacre and arrests on March 29 come in the wake of the October 2018 Sagay Massacre where 9 sugarcane farmers in Sagay City, Negros Occidental were shot by 5 to 6 gunmen while eating dinner. In a similar police operation in December 2018, six people were killed and 31 were arrested. Military operations and killings have intensified since last November when Duterte deployed more troops to Negros Oriental and Occidental in order to crush dissent.

We call on the Duterte government to end the senseless war on the Filipino people, and stop the killing of children, farmers, indigenous peoples, and human rights defenders.

We call on the Duterte regime to end impunity and prosecute the human rights perpetrators in the Philippines.

We call on President Duterte to resume the peace process and address the roots of the problems of poverty and inequality in the Philippines!

We call on the Canadian government to end its support for the Duterte regime, and stop all security and military collaboration with the Philippine military apparatus that oppresses and kills the Filipino people.