DOJ-led task force set to probe ‘Bloody Sunday’

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    JUSTICE Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday said the justice department’s task force on extrajudicial killings will investigate the killing of a Bayan leader and eight others last Sunday that human rights groups have dubbed as “Bloody Sunday.”

    “If there are activists involved with certain advocacies, whether it be trade unionism, peasant organizations or indigenous peoples, we will definitely include them in the AO 35 task force jurisdiction and we’re actually meeting this month,” Guevarra said, adding the meeting will happen by the third or fourth week this month.

    PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas, meanwhile, justified the law enforcement operations in Rizal, Batangas, Cavite and Laguna that left nine people dead and the arrest of nine others.

    “It’s a legitimate operation because they are covered by search warrants,” Sinas told reporters in Camp Crame, referring to the operations conducted by the Calabarzon Regional Police.

    Calabarzon Regional Police director Brig. Gen. Felipe Natividad belied reports that policemen planted evidence against the suspects.

    “This is a legitimate operation, and these individuals were identified according to our intelligence report and were subjected to operational research including their involvements with the rebel groups,” said Natividad.

    Leftist groups and the human rights group Karapatan have denounced the killings, saying the operations were part of the government’s crackdown against progressive organizations.

    Karapatan named five of the fatalities as Emmanuel Asuncion, coordinator of the Cavite chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan who was killed in Dasmariñas, Cavite; couple Ariel and Anna Marie Evangelista of the fisherfolk group Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan, who both died in Nasugbu, Batangas; and Melvin Dasigao of the urban poor group Sikkad Montalban and youth organizer Coros Bacasco, who both died in Montalban, Rizal.

    Asked if he would order the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the killings, Guevarra said the NBI is part of the AO35 task force and is automatically included in the meeting.

    The other members of the AO35 task force, created during the time of former president Benigno Aquino III, are the Department of Interior and Local Government, PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

    Guevarra declined to speculate if President Duterte’s statement last Friday ordering state security forces to kill armed communist rebels had something to do with Sunday’s killings, as claimed by human rights groups.

    “I really can’t speculate if may connection sya dun sa sinabi ng Presidente. The President has always been vocal about the fight against these communist terrorist groups so I cannot really say. So, let’s see what really are the facts since its difficult to say that it’s because of what the President has said,” he said.

    Opposition senators slammed the government for the latest killings of activists, saying such acts are “very disturbing.”

    “As a person, I find the killings very disturbing. Every life is precious. Peace and order, not killings, is the mandate of the police. Thousands have died due to COVID-19 and calamities. The police, on other hand, have also become an instrument in the deaths of our countrymen,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.

    To prevent the “obvious disregard for human life”, Pangilinan said the PNP should immediately use the P289 million worth of body cameras purchased in 2019.

    “Without the body cameras, the ‘nanlaban’ (suspects violently resisting arrests) excuse of the police for killing their captives would always be under a cloud of suspicion,” he said. – With Victor Reyes and Raymond Africa