Non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday urged both the Philippine government and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) to end unlawful attacks and killings in Negros Oriental.
“Killing civilians and captured combatants are war crimes,” said HRW Executive Director for Asia Brad Adams. “Responsibility for the killings remains unclear. But both the government and the NPA should take all necessary measures to end unlawful attacks, either by their forces or armed elements linked to them.”
Killings in Negros Oriental spiked over the weekend with 14 fatal shootings recorded in the province.
Adams cited the province's long history of violence due to issues of land rights, poverty, and injustice.
“Peasant and farmer groups have campaigned for land reform over the island’s vast sugar plantations amidst fighting between communist insurgents and government forces,” said the human rights advocate, adding that both sides had been implicated in countless human rights abuses.
But the violence had increased dramatically after NPA gunmen killed four police officers in Ayungon town on July 18.
According to police investigators, the lawmen had been tortured before being executed, allegations that the NPA had denied.
Adams said that after President Rodrigo Duterte denounced the killings and offered a reward for the capture of perpetrators, “There have been multiple daily killings in the province.”
Among these were the seven separate "summary killings" on July 25, and the killing of human rights lawyer Anthony Trinidad by unidentified gunmen in Guihulngan City.
Adams added that human rights defenders and activist groups have blamed the government for the killings, and for Operation Sauron - a six-month-long counter-insurgency operation against the NPA.
Human rights defenders and activist groups had also accused the government of “red-baiting” activists and farmers groups by labeling them as NPA supporters, and thus putting them at risk from attack.
Aside from HRW, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines had also condemned the killings, specifically the murder of human rights lawyer Anthony Trinidad.
The Commission on Human Rights had meanwhile sent additional investigators to look into the murders "without bias and regardless of possible motive." — Joviland Rita/DVM, GMA News