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Senators seek probe into 'bloody Sunday' killings in Calabarzon

Senators on Monday called for an in-depth investigation into the series of raids in the offices and homes of activists in Calabarzon over the weekend, which left nine individuals dead and six arrested.

In a statement, Senator Risa Hontiveros condemned the killing of nine activists in Calabarzon which she said was because of "this administration’s high level of disrespect towards basic human rights."

"I am calling for a thorough investigation by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR)," she said.

"We will also consider filing a bill penalizing red tagging as a separate and distinct crime because those fighting to protect our basic rights should not be silenced," she added.

Hontiveros slammed the Duterte administration for supposedly perpetuating such scale of violence, injustice, and impunity.

"The 1987 Constitution itself guarantees all Filipinos freedom of speech and expression and freedom of assembly. Hindi pwedeng ipawalang-bisa ng pamahalaan ang mga karapatan na ito kahit kailan," she said.

Senator Leila De Lima shared Hontiveros' sentiments: "Kailangang matigil na ang walang habas na pag-atake sa karapatang pantao. Kailangan ding managot ang mga salarin. The intensifying attacks warrant the attention and condemnation of the Filipino people and the international community," she said.

"For this regime, government critics, activists and other truth-seekers can be, and are being branded as enemies of the State, making them targets of Duterte’s 'kill, kill, kill' policy.  Kailangang magtuloy-tuloy ang pagkondena at paniningil.  We will not stop until these murderers are held accountable for their crimes," said De Lima, an administration critic who is detained in connection with drug-related cases.

For her part, Senator Grace Poe maintained that police operations should strictly adhere to due process, as provided in the Constitution.

"It is the mandate of law enforcers to ensure that these guarantees are observed and not just dismiss nonchalantly cries of possible human rights violations," she said.

"Protecting the right to life should have the highest threshold in our quest for peace and order," she added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson echoed Poe's remarks, pointing out that clear guidelines must be observed in carrying out anti-insurgency operations to ensure that only armed combatants are targeted.

"It goes without saying that the only legal justification to kill an adversary is in defense of oneself or another person," said said, a former national police chief.

"Having said that, prematurely jumping into the conclusion of a contrived or  deliberate intent to kill on the part of the law enforcement officers won’t help in any way the CHR and other investigating bodies tasked to look into the issue at hand," he added.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, on the other hand, said the Philippine National Police should use its P289 million-worth of body cameras purchased in 2018 to prevent killings like the one that took place in Calabarzon.

“Without the body cameras, the ‘nanlaban’ excuse of the police for killing their captives would always be under a cloud of suspicion,” he said.

PNP spokesperson Police Brigadier General Ildebrandi Usana maintained that the operations were legitimate and pointed out that the issuance of search warrants is as difficult as getting arrest warrants.

"There is deposition of witnesses and the examining judge has to make probing questions. Serving of warrants also requires the presence of at least 2 witnesses,” he told GMA News Online in a text message.

“The operations at the least were legitimate. On the strength of search warrants, the police simply responded to the call of our communities to be protected from individual persons found with illegal possession of firearms and explosives,” he added.

Usana challenged those who are questioning the operations to go to the court and file their complaints if they have evidence. —KBK, GMA News