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Malacañang vows justice if human rights violated in Calabarzon raids

Malacañang on Thursday, March 11, promised to hold accountable any soldier or cop found to have murdered activists during recent raids in Calabarzon.

"Impunity has no place in the Duterte administration. Whoever violated the law will be held accountable and will be punished under our laws," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said on Thursday.

Malacañang expressed confidence in the Department of Justice's investigation into the killings of 9 activists who worked in progressive groups involved in labor rights, housing rights, and human rights advocacies.

"When it comes to the right to life, the obligation of the state is to investigate and punish those who violated human rights, and that is the promise of our Department of Justice," said Roque.

The Palace has not referred to the killings as outright murders or condemned actions of the military and police who conducted the raids.

Instead, Roque had repeatedly declined to comment while no government probe has been conducted.

On Monday, March 9, Roque said Duterte did not even bring up the Calabarzon killings during his meeting that day with some Cabinet members. This was two days after the deadly raid.

Roque, instead, harked back to Duterte's previous remarks unrelated to the Calabarzon killings, about punishing anyone who violates the law.

"The President himself said in many occasions that any violation in operations will be acted upon," said the Duterte spokesman,.

But asked if the Palace believes that soldiers and cops in the raids had used deadly force against the activists because of Duterte's constant kill threats against communist rebels, Roque said he did not think so.

"There was no misinterpretation because even back when I was with UP (University of the Philippines), we would lecture to police about the International Humanitarian Law," said Roque in Filipino.

Cops would know, he said, that in an encounter with the New People's Army, they must target only the armed rebels. But outside such encounters, the Revised Penal Code must be followed, which means deadly force must be justified by to the threat posed by suspects.

The police claimed that they had to shoot at the activists because there was a threat to their lives.

An investigation, said Roque, should ferret out the truth.

Appeal to EU

Roque also addressed the statement released by the European Union delegation, which had expressed "concern" over the killings. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called them "arbitrary" killings.

"I ask the European Union, please give the Philippines a chance to discharge its obligation to investigate, punish and prosecute those who may have breached our domestic laws. We are undertaking the state obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish," said Roque on Thursday.

Earlier, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations Geneva slammed the UN human rights office for "prejudging" what it called "legitimate police operations."

Asked what the government would do about the growing number of deaths of persons red-tagged by the government, Roque said body cameras for law enforcers should be in use "by the month of April."

He expressed confidence that these body cameras would take away the "suspicion of people about what really happened when someone is killed."

However, transparency in controversial police operations has not been a hallmark of the Duterte government. It took a Supreme Court order for police to provide anti-drug operations documents for scrutiny, and even then, many of these were not even about the controversial operations. (READ: Duterte government's "rubbish" files stall SC drug war case)

Roque also said he would call Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Cirilito Sobejana to check on the claim that families of the killed activists were blocked from claiming their bodies. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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