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More church groups, Catholic schools slam 'tokhang operations' vs Calabarzon activists

Faith-based groups representing various religious denominations as well as Catholic schools have joined the chorus of condemnation of the "Bloody Sunday" operations of the military and police in Calabarzon that left 9 activists dead.

Ecumenical group One Voice described the killings as “tokhang-style,” referring to the police’s notorious anti-drug operations that left thousands of unresolved “nanlaban” deaths, especially among the poor. (READ: Investigating Duterte's drug war using data: It's 'state-sponsored' murder)

“To employ similar tokhang operations on activists and leaders of the progressive Left is not only criminal, but an affront to the democratic rights of every Filipino,” the groups said.

Among those who signed the statement released on Wednesday, March 10, were Bishop Broderick Pabillo, temporary head of the Archdiocese of Manila; Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines; Supreme Bishop Rhee Timbang of the Philippine Independent Church, former education secretary Brother Armin Luistro, provincial superior of De La Salle Brothers in East Asia.

The others are Bishop Rex Reyes of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines, Bishop Emergencio Padillo of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines’ Middle Luzon Jurisdiction, Sister Ma Lisa Ruedas of the Daughters of Charity’s Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation, and Sisters’ Association in Mindanao chairperson Sister Rowena Pineda.

One Voice also questioned the manner in which the operations were conducted.

“The search warrants and early morning raids of homes and offices are dubious. The killings of Emmanuel Asuncion, Chai Evangelista, Ariel Evangelista, Mark Lee Bascano, Melvin Dasigao, Puroy dela Cruz, Randy dela Cruz, Abner Esto, and Edward Esto appear to be nothing but premeditated murders. Something is terribly wrong,” One Voice said.

The group noted that those killed and arrested were “openly asserting their rights to voice the grievances of the people.” 

“By all logical measure, the simultaneous raids and the resulting killings were not encounters with armed rebels, but a fascistic targeting of social activists of open, legal, and recognized cause-oriented groups,” the group said.

One Voice blasted the Duterte administration for encouraging the killings when the country “needs a government that heals.” 

The group also called on the Filipino people “to pray for our nation and to uphold this common concern for the safety and welfare of those who are under attack" and urged an impartial and speedy inquiry.

On Sunday, March 7, the military and the police conducted operations against activist groups in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Rizal as part of the government’s anti-communist insurgency campaign, leading to 9 deaths and 6 arrests.

The police claimed those killed fought with cops serving search warrants, but human rights groups said that the victims were unarmed. The operation was held two days after President Rodrigo Duterte told state security forces to “finish off” communist rebels in armed encounters.

Catholic schools: Life is sacred

The country’s association of Catholic schools on Wednesday, March 10, denounced what they called the Calabarzon “massacre” that should have “no space in society.”

“We cannot allow our children to grow up thinking that life is not sacred,” said the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines’ (CEAP) in a statement

The group, composed of 1,525 member-schools, urged Filipinos to reject impunity and the “growing culture of death and normalization of killings in our society.” 

CEAP also asked the government “not to pursue the path of force and violence but instead, address the roots of the problem of insurgency like poverty, marginalization, and the denial of basic human needs.” 

EcuVoice calls for UNHRC probe

The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) called the killings a “treacherous assault on human rights and the rule of law.”

“The killings of Dumagat indigenous people Puroy de la Cruz and Randy de la Cruz, particularly hits close to home as Sta Inez is a mission area. Equally appalling is the killing of Manny Asuncion at the office of EcuVoice convening organization-Workers' Assistance Center, an apostolate for workers established by the late Father Joe Dizon,” EcuVoice said in a statement on Thursday, March 11.

The group urged the international community to help push the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation.

EcuVoice describes itself as “ a network of faith-based and human rights organizations engaging with the United Nations human rights systems and intergovernmental platforms to bring voices of human rights victims and communities to the international community.”

Red-tagging 'a prelude to murder'

Church-People Workers’ Solidarity (CWS), an ecumenical group advocating workers’ rights, blamed the killings and arrests on “the relentless red-tagging” of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict that “has become a prelude to murder.”

CWS also said that the passage of the anti-terror law has “emboldened” state security forces to “launch killing sprees.” (READ: 'Anti-terror law violates 15 of 22 items in Bill of Rights, issue TRO now')

“Unfortunately, this violence perpetrated by the government only victimizes the poor, the vulnerable, and the defenseless,” CWS said.

The CWS statement, signed by their chairperson San Carlos, Negros Occidental Bishop Gerardo Alminaza on March 9, likened the killings to Oplan Sauron, a “joint police and military operations first conducted in Negros island, and most recently in Panay island,” that “resulted in mass killings and arrests of high-profile mass leaders and activists.”

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ social arm and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines have previously released their own statements denouncing the killings. –