Groups from Southern Tagalog on Monday (March 7) stormed the streets in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Massacre where 9 activists from the region were killed by state forces, while 6 were illegally arrested.
The March 7 crackdown and the conduct of Simultaneous Implementation of Search Warrants dubbed COPLAN ASVAL is one of the biggest offensives of the police and military against legal activist groups, many of which have been red-tagged by the Duterte administration.
The massacre came two days after Duterte directed the police and the military to "finish off" and kill all members of the communist rebel group New People's Army advising them to "don't mind human rights". Legal activists have been repeatedly red-tagged as insurgents under the administration.
This led to the killing of labor leader Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion, environmental activist couple Chai and Ariel Evangelista in Batangas, and urban poor activists Melvin Dasigao, Mark Bacasno, Abner Esto, and Edward Esto. Police and military officers also killed indigenous Dumagat Puroy and Randy “Pulong” Dela Cruz in Tanay, Rizal.
Police have also arrested labor leader Esteban Mendoza, BAYAN Laguna spokesperson Elizabeth "Mags" Camoral, paralegal Nimfa Lanzanas, member of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) Rizal Eugene Eugenio, Joan Ignacio Efren, and one unidentified individual arrested in Rizal.
Investigations vs authorities
A day after the violent killings on March 7 last year, the Department of Justice said that its Administrative Order 35 Task Force, or the task force that looks into extrajudicial killings, will look into the deaths of the slain activists.
However, no perpetrator has been arrested a year after.
Forensic Pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun on July 2021 presented her findings that the individuals were deliberately killed. She said that although autopsy examinations on the nine bodies were difficult because they were already embalmed, they saw similarities in the way the victims were shot.
“All of them had shots in the chest, shot to be killed,” Fortun said. “Each case deserves a homicide investigation,” she added, saying that the cases were all of “violent deaths.”
Case of labor leader Manny Asuncion
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has recommended a complaint against 17 policemen over the killing of labor leader Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion in Dasmarinas, Cavite
“In the case of the death of Asuncion, the AO 35 Special Investigating Team (SIT) has recommended the filing of murder charges against certain law enforcement agents involved in the incident,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a Viber message.
The complaint was filed with the Office of the City Prosecutor in Dasmariñas City, with Asuncion’s wife Liezl as the complainant. Hearings were scheduled to last January 11 and 25 to decide if it will result in court-filed charges.
A total of 17 policemen, mostly from the Calabarzon regional police, will face murder complaints One from the Calabarzon office of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) is also included.
Officers listed were: Lieutenants Elbert Santos (CIDG), Shay Jed Sapitula; Senior Master Sergeant Hector Cardinales; Master Sergeant Ariel Dela Cruz; Staff Sergeant Joemark Sajul; Corporals Ernie Ambuyoc, Mark John Defiesta, Arjay Garcia, Caidar Dimacangun, Bryan Sanchez, Ericson Lucido; and Patrolmen Jayson Maala, Juanito Plite, Jonathan Tatel, Prince Benjamin Torres, Jaime Turingan, and Lopera Rey Dacara.
Also included in the complaint were Police Patrolmen Jayson Maala, Juanito Plite, Jonathan Tatel, Prince Benjamin Torres, Jaime Turingan and Lopera Rey PJ Dacara.
There has been no update on the case after the hearings yet.
Case of fisherfolk leaders Chai and Arnel Evangelista
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed a murder complaint against 17 policemen allegedly involved in the killings of fisherfolk leaders and spouses Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista in Nasugbu, Batangas, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said last January 14.
The police alleged that the two fought back during the service of search warrants in their cottage in Nasugbu, Batangas. However, witnesses, including their 10-year-old son, said the couple was dragged to a nearby house where shots were fired soon after. They were then pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital.
"Today, the NBI filed before the DOJ a complaint for murder against 17 officers and personnel associated with the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region IV-A who were involved in the service of warrants... that led to the untimely deaths [of the Evangelistas]" the press statement read.
The DOJ has yet to release the names of the 17 cops.
Urban poor advocates Melvin Dasigao and Mark Bacasno
The AO 35 Special Investigation Team (SIT) has also been directed to file complaint over the death of urban poor advocate and member of urban poor organization San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran, at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan, at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD-K3) Melvin Dasigao.
The investigation for Mark Bacasno’s death is still in progress.
‘No cause-oriented connection’ on Puroy and Randy dela Cruz killings: DOJ
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has said in December that the AO 35 has excluded the killings of Dumagats Puroy dela Cruz and Randy “Pulong” dela Cruz because “no cause-oriented connection was established.”
Puroy and Pulong were community leaders with the group Dumagat Sierra Madre, which opposes the construction of the Kaliwa Dam. They were also among the residents in their area invited by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in May 2020 for “local peace engagement.”
The said invitation reportedly accuses the invitees were linked to communist rebels.
Casey Cruz of Bayan Southern Tagalog has said that the authorities can’t rule out their deaths as political killings because there were buildups that the victims were being red-tagged by the local ELCAC.
Investigation on the deaths of other victims is still ongoing according to the DOJ.
Search warrant for arrested activist Lino Baez voided
A Batangas court in November 2021 quashed Manila Judge Jason Zapanta’s search warrant against Erlindo “Lino Baez, one of the activists searched in the Bloody Sunday operations. Batangas Judge Jose Ricuerdo Flores ruled that Zapanta's search warrant is void because it just said "Bgy San Vicente, Sto Tomas, Batangas" with no specific description of Baez's house. It added that there was no record of Zapanta thoroughly examining search application.
Meanwhile, Cabuyao and Calamba, Laguna courts are yet to junk “factory warrants” signed by Zapanta against Nimfa Lanzanas, Steve Mendoza, and Mags Camoral, according to group Bayan Laguna.
Groups call for justice a year after
Various rights groups held a mobilization at the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court on March 7 to urge authorities to hasten justice and cases as red-tagging and threats continue on Southern Tagalog Activists.
"Isang taon ang nakalipas, pero ang bagal ng hustisya. Ang mga korteng ito ay dapat sana pinoprotektahan ang mamamayan. Pero nagpapatuloy ang banta sa mamamayan ng Timog Katagalugan, sa mamamayang lumalaban para sa hustisya," a spokesperson from Defend Southern Tagalog said.
[One year has passed, but justice remains slow. These courts shout protect the Filipinos. However, threats are still active for progressive people from Southern Tagalog. People who fight for justice.]
Local and international groups have condemned the series of arrests and killings on the violent massacre.
Moreover, the Supreme Court on June 29, 2021 issued Administrative Matter No. 21-06-08-SC that represses the power of local courts to issue search warrants outside their judicial regions, following complaints of abuse of warrants. It also requires law enforcers to record their implementation of court-issued warrants on video.
Pola Rubio is a news writer and photojournalist covering Philippine politics and events. She regularly follows worldwide and local happenings. The views expressed are her own.
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