Dozens of activists arrested in raids on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's critics

President Rodrigo Duterte had been backed by leftist groups in the 2016 national elections. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - Security forces have in the past week arrested dozens of activists in what leftist groups allege is a state-led effort to silence President Rodrigo Duterte's loudest critics.

On Tuesday (Nov 5), three staff members of the political organisation Bayan (New Nationalist Alliance) were arrested in an early morning raid on one of the group's offices in Manila.

Over 50 other activists, including six minors, were arrested last Thursday in security sweeps in Bacolod city, 500km south of Manila, targeting the offices of Bayan; labour group Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1st Movement); women's rights campaigner Gabriela; and the National Federation of Sugar Workers.

All those arrested were accused of undergoing firearms and explosives training to sow discord and destabilise the government.

The military has tagged Bayan and other leftist organisations allied with it as "fronts" of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

The human rights group Karapatan described Tuesday's raid as "Gestapo-like", referring to Nazi Germany's secret police.

"The narrative that there are guns and bombs in the said office... is preposterous and a barefaced lie meant to justify these patently arbitrary arrests and to silence social justice workers and activists," it said.

Representative Carlos Zarate, of the Bayan Muna (People First) political party, said: "It seems that the creeping martial rule of the Duterte administration has now reached the capital."

Leftist groups had backed Mr Duterte in the 2016 national elections, with his promises of ending corruption, raising wages, stopping corporate abuses, and ending the decades-long communist insurgency.

But they have withdrawn their support, as they accuse Mr Duterte of reneging on his promises.

Mr Duterte promised to end the widespread practice among the country's biggest retailers of hiring workers on short-term contracts when he was campaigning for president.

He has walked back on that pledge, agreeing with businesses that "labour-only contracting" is needed in some situations.

Activists have also slammed Mr Duterte for ignoring corruption charges against his kin and closest aides.

Nationalists have, meanwhile, taken issue with his pro-China policies, and human rights lawyers have lodged cases against him for "crimes against humanity" before an international court over his brutal drug war.

Mr Duterte scuttled peace talks with the communists in 2017, just a year after he became president.

In August this year, he threatened communist insurgents and their allies with "severe measures" after four policemen were killed in an ambush staged by the armed wing of the CPP.

He said he has ordered security forces to "give them what they deserve".

The Philippines has Asia's longest-running communist insurgency.

In March, communist guerrillas marked the 50th anniversary of their rural rebellion with threats of more attacks, possibly in cities, as a negotiated settlement remains elusive and peace talks have repeatedly stalled.

Last year, more than 380 security personnel were killed in rebel attacks.

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