Lawmakers in the Philippines House of Representative have called for a congressional inquiry into the recent mass killings of Indigenous peoples in a raid by the security forces. The House Resolution No. 1449 was moved by the six legislators of the left-wing Makabayan bloc on Monday, January 4. Makabayan has urged the House to initiate an inquiry into the killing of nine Indigenous leaders of the Tumandok community in a joint raid by the police and military on December 30.
The bloc, which consists of various progressive and left-wing groups including Bayan Muna, Association of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and Gabriela Women’s Party, strongly condemned the murders as a case of “red-tagging” by the state authorities. In a statement released on Monday, the bloc called the murders “highly alarming.” “Their deaths add to the already long list of farmers extrajudicially killed under this administration,” the statement read.
Red-tagging is a practice employed by the Filipino state where critics are persecuted in various ways and even killed under the pretext of belonging to banned Communist Party of the Philippines.
“The brazen killing of the poor and the marginalized indigenous peoples is an indicator of the state of human rights in the country as well as the raging impunity that seems to reign over our land,” the statement added. The lawmakers also stated in a press conference that the victims “were well-known indigenous leaders in their respective barangays (districts). They were consistent in opposing militarization and rights violations in their communities.”
“They were also active in the resistance against land grabbing and the construction of the Jalaur Mega Dam in Calinog, Iloilo threatening to inundate ancestral lands and displace thousands of indigenous peoples and peasants. For these reasons, they were red-tagged by the military, prior to the series of arrests and killings,” the lawmakers added.
Civil society members have also joined the call for investigation and action. Human rights advocacy group Karapatan called for the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the killings, disappearances and arrests. On the day the resolution was tabled, the National Council of Churches (NCCP) and other civil society groups organized a candle light protest against the murders and the political violence under the government of Rodrigo Duterte.
The “red-tagged” massacre
The killings of the Indigenous leaders took place on Panay Island in central Philippines on December 30. Security forces also arrested at least 18 other members of the community. The raid that swept 16 villages in the provinces of Capiz and Iloilo was undertaken by the investigative arm of the Philippines National Police and the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Battalion. The operation began early in the morning and lasted until the afternoon.
Among the murdered leaders was Roy Giganto, chairperson of TUMANDUK, a community movement, and local councilors and other grassroots activists. TUMANDUK and the victims were allegedly red-tagged as a front for the banned Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) by the anti-communist National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), formed under an executive order passed by Duterte in 2018.
Security forces have claimed that they had served 28 warrants over irregular firearms possession in the region and that the killings took place after the victims shot at the officers during the raid. But community leaders and villagers have rejected these claims and asserted that everyone was unarmed during the violent raids. At least two of the arrested people have been reported missing. The family members of one of the deceased have alleged custodial torture.
The indigenous communities in Panay have been fighting for years against the Panay River Basin Integrated Development Project in the region, including the Jalaur Megadam Project proposed on their ancestral lands. TUMANDUK, an alliance of the 17 Tumandok communities in the region, has been organizing protests against these projects which are expected to displace nearly 17,000 Indigenous people.