Several groups condemned what they termed as “militarization” of indigenous peoples (IP) areas after the massacre and arrest of members belonging to the Tumandok community in Panay island.
Nine people who were part of the Panay Tumandok community were killed while 17 others were arrested in simultaneous police operations on Panay Island Wednesday, December 30. The suspects allegedly fought the authorities during their arrest.
However, human rights group Panay Alliance Karapatan denied the police claim allegation and said the IPs killed were red-tagged by military as members and supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
Those arrested in the operation of the Philippine National Police (PNP)-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and Police Regional Office-Western Visayas (PRO-6) were also part of the IP community.
PRO-6, in a statement, said the operation was implemented based on information from civilians in the area on the presence of persons with high-powered firearms.
This operation was a regular law enforcement activity and aimed to curb the proliferation of firearms and explosives on Panay Island, the police statement added.
Meanwhile, in an interview on Sunday, January 3, the PNP insisted that the slain indigenous peoples were members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and that they fought back to resist arrest
"Perhaps there are those in their party who did not agree to be served a search warrant. As a result, there was an encounter and they were killed," PNP spokesman Brigadier General Ildebrandi Usana said without citing any basis.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers Panay (NUPL-Panay) slammed authorities, saying how the service of the search warrants "was nothing more than an excuse to carry out an operation intended to kill and arrest local leaders of Tumandok communities that have been actively advocating for the rights and interests of farmers and indigenous peoples."
The Tumandok community have long campaigned against the construction of the Jalaur Dam in Panay island. The Jalaur Dam is a billion-peso government project that would impact 18 barangays in the area, most of which are ancestral lands of the Tumandok community.
“Neither a search warrant nor a warrant of arrest is a license to commit murder. There is no presumption of regularity when people end up dead as a result of the implementation of such warrants,” said NUPL-Panay's statement.
AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People said what happened to the Tumandok community was a "clear manifestation of the dangers of red-tagging" and a move to scare vocal dissenters.
Fr. Marco Sulayao, chairperson of the Promotion of Church Peoples' Response (PCPR) in Panay and Guimaras, blamed the killing to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
"These environment defenders are not communist terrorists as accused by their perpetrators. AGHAM urges that the state forces and the NTF-ELCAC which spreads dangerous lies and heads the witch-hunt against government critics must be held accountable for the heinous crimes committed not only to the Tumandok people but to all the victims of red-tagging," AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology added.
Youth Act Now Against Tyranny–Panay said the recent killings showed that authorities have made a pattern out of excusing the killings of dissenters by red-tagging them as communist rebels.
"If it were not clear before, there is no denying it now: there is no war against communist revolutionaries, but a war against dissenters.... AFP-PNP's (Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police) claims that they were rebels undeniably proves the government armed forces' pattern of legitimizing EJKs by red-tagging, just as they legitimized EJKs by drug-tagging," the group said.
Amihan National Chairperson Zenaida Soriano, along with other peasant women part of the group, demanded justice for all the victims of political persecution under the Duterte administration. The group also urged the public to condemn the growing number of extrajudicial killings and illegal arrests in the country.
Here’s what other groups were saying about the issue: