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Rights groups call for investigation into killings of Philippine activists

MANILA (Reuters) - Human rights groups called on the Philippine government to investigate what they said was the use of “lethal force” during police raids on Sunday that left at least nine activists dead.

FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at Villamor Air Base in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo

The raids in four provinces south of Manila resulted in the death of an environmental activist as well as a coordinator of left-wing group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, among others, and resulted in the arrest of four others, activist groups said.

“These raids appear to be part of a coordinated plan by the authorities to raid, arrest, and even kill activists in their homes and offices,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in a statement.

These incidents, he said, were “clearly part of the government’s increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign.”

“The fundamental problem is (that) this campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and noncombatant activists, labour leaders, and rights defenders.”

The United Nations has warned in a report that “red-tagging”, or labelling people and groups as communists or terrorists, and incitement to violence have been rife in the Southeast Asian nation.

“The Philippines government should act now to investigate the use of lethal force in these raids, stop the mayhem and killings that has gone hand in hand with the practice of red-tagging,” Robertson said.

Sunday’s raids, which human rights group Karapatan condemned, came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the police and military to “kill” communist rebels and “ignore human rights”.

“Nothing could be more apt than calling this day a ‘Bloody Sunday,’” Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay said.

Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, head of an anti-rebel task force, told Reuters the raids were “legitimate law enforcement operations”, and authorities acted on the basis of search warrants for possession of firearms and explosives.

“As usual these groups are so quick in assuming that the subjects were activists and that they were killed. If (the) motive was to kill them they should all be dead but there were those who did not resist arrest so they were collared,” Parlade told Reuters in a phone message.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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