'Bloody Sunday': At least 9 killed in raids against civil rights groups across the Philippines

An anti-communist banner on an overhead footbridge in Manila. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - At least nine activists were killed early on Sunday (March 7) during a coordinated crackdown by security forces on civil liberties groups tagged as "communist fronts" in four provinces just south of capital Manila.

Lieutenant-Colonel Chitadel Gaoiran, a police spokesman, confirmed that six were killed in Rizal province, two in Batangas province and one in Cavite province.

He said six were arrested, and police were still searching for nine more suspects.

"We found explosives and assorted firearms from the suspects, but I don't have information on their backgrounds," he told GMA News Online.

The activist group Karapatan (Rights) reported that a coordinator of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), a political party with three representatives in Congress, was among those killed during a police raid on a private office in Cavite.

Four more activists working with poor fishermen and informal settlers were killed in separate raids on their homes and offices in Batangas and Rizal.

There was no additional information on the others killed.

Karapatan described the raids as "Gestapo-esque" and labelled the incident "Bloody Sunday".

"These attacks on Bayan leaders, as well as other activists and human rights defenders… comes on the heels of President Rodrigo Duterte's order to… disregard human rights and kill suspected rebels," Bayan said in a statement.

It said security forces used questionable warrants and planted weapons and explosives during the raids.

The raids happened just two days after Mr Duterte ordered security forces to "kill" and "finish off" armed communist rebels, without regard for human rights.

"If you clash with (the rebels), kill them, finish them off. That's my order. I will (be the one to) go to jail. There's no problem with it. I don't have qualms about doing the things that I have to do," he said during an event to mark the distribution of funds for communities "liberated" from communist groups.

Mr Duterte is facing charges of "crimes against humanity" before the International Criminal Court for a bloody drug war that has left at least 8,000 dead.

Rights groups have reported higher numbers, and said the violence has continued even as the country remains under quarantine restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Civil rights activists said they have seen crackdowns by security forces against them intensify since Mr Duterte signed the "anti-terror law" last year.

The law expands the definition of terrorism and bolsters police powers of surveillance, arrest and detention.

It authorises the government to wiretap suspects, arrest them without warrants and hold them without charge for 14 days, among others provisions.

But human rights groups said the law is being used to crack down on activists criticising Mr Duterte's drug war and human rights record.

At least 300 activists, including 55 lawyers and judges who were tagged as communist sympathisers, have been killed since Mr Duterte became president in 2016.

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