Duterte threatens martial law on troubled Negros Island

Philippine president blames communist rebels for recent civilian killings, vows tit-for-tat response
Duterte threatens martial law on troubled Negros Island

Relatives of victims of killings in the Philippines join human rights groups in a demonstration in Manila to call for justice and a stop to the violence, especially in the provinces. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has accused communist rebels on Negros Island in the central part of the country of killing civilians, and vowed a tit-for-tat response.

He threatened to place Negros, the country’s fourth largest island with a population of four million, under martial law.

"The president vows to replicate the atrocious acts done by communist rebels on civilians," his spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said on July 31.

Early this week, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos called for a resumption of peace talks to end Asia’s longest-running insurgency and to address the killings.

But instead of heeding the prelate's call, Duterte offered five million pesos (about US$98,000) in reward money "for the capture, dead or alive," of the killers of four Negros policemen.

The president's threat of emergency rule comes despite responsibility for 21 killings in recent days, following the July 18 ambush that killed the police officers, not being established. 

'Unjustified'

Bishop Alminaza has yet to issue a response to Duterte’s latest pronouncement, but his social media account shares messages warning against the imposition of martial law.

The social action arm of the bishops’ conference has already backed the prelate's peace talks call.

"Have we totally lost faith and hope in life and in people that we turned barbaric against each other? We need to do something as a Church," said Father Edwin Gariguez, who heads the conference's National Secretariat for Social Action — Justice and Peace.  

"We cannot keep silent and remain undisturbed by the killings," said the priest. 

The National Council of Churches of the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and the Philippine Independent Church all issued similar views.

'Probe calls snowball'

Duterte’s latest threat came on the heels of a resolution by 26 legislators supporting a call for an investigation into the killings.

The resolution in Congress called on authorities to "put an end to the attacks and to bring the perpetrators to justice."

"The state’s failure to identify and punish the perpetrators further breeds a culture of impunity and violence," said the legislators.

They urged Congress to immediately demand accountability on the part of law enforcement authorities that may be involved in the killings.

The legislators noted that most victims were suspected of being rebel supporters.

A guerrilla commander, in response to a statement by Human Rights Watch, insisted they had a hand only in the deaths of the four police officers.

Defend Negros, an alliance of human rights advocates, warned that Duterte violated the constitution by targeting suspected civilian supporters of rebels without any due process.

The group noted that police and military officials had justified two massacres in the province by claiming that all 20 slain men identified as rebels had "fought back" against arresting officers.

But the men were all killed in their homes in the presence of family members who have filed complaints with the government's rights body.

The family of human rights lawyer Anthony Trinidad, who was killed on July 23, claimed that other members of the prominent family were also targets of assassinations.

"We, siblings of slain lawyer Anthony Trinidad, strongly condemn the false tagging of our brother and some members of our family as communist sympathizers," read a family statement.

"We call on the people who issue irresponsible statements linking members of our family to the extreme left to stop. They are putting our lives in grave danger," it added.

The family appealed to the Justice Department "to immediately intervene and help our family and the people ... to continue with our lives without fear of foreboding harm and danger."

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