UN experts call out Duterte’s silence on Bloody Sunday killings

Four UN special rapporteurs had inquired about the status of the investigation into the Bloody Sunday killings in the Calabarzon region near Manila, in which nine activists were killed in police raids on March 7 last year

January 13, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Philippines Bloody Sunday killings

A group of United Nations special rapporteurs called out the Rodrigo Duterte administration in the Philippines over the lack of response on inquiries regarding extrajudicial killings and attacks on activists. On Tuesday, January 11, the special rapporteurs made public a letter inquiring about the “Bloody Sunday” police killings and other extrajudicial attacks on activists, expressing their disappointment that no response had come from the government so far.

The letter dated October 28, 2021 was signed by special rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, and special rapporteur on protection of human rights while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.

The communication specifically mentioned five of the nine victims killed in the multiple raids conducted by the Philippines National Police (PNP) and the army on March 7, 2021. The UN rapporteurs asked the government for an update on the investigation into the killings of Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion, Mark “Makmak” Bacasno, Melvin Dasigao, Chai Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista.

The incidents are cited as examples of widespread attacks on activists accused of being associated with the banned militant Communist Party of the Philippines. The letter also inquires into the actions taken to prevent similar killings and the definition of terrorism that the government will use when applying the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act. The government was asked to respond within 60 days.

The March 2021 raids were conducted across four provinces in the Calabarzon or Southern Tagalog region, near Manila, over the span of a single day. Apart from killing nine people, the raids also led to six arrests and a hunt for nine others. The victims were mostly left-wing activists, trade unionists and environmentalists.

So far, the most progress reported in the case was last month when the Department of Justice announced that it will be filing murder charges against 17 police officers involved in the raids and the killing of Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion, a trade unionist and secretary general of BAYAN (a progressive political party) in the Cavite province. 

But, the Philippines government is yet to respond to national and international concerns raised about the investigation into the Calabarzon killings and the dozens of other assassinations that have occurred during the nearly six years of Duterte’s administration.

This reluctance to respond to international agencies was specifically highlighted by the rapporteurs who cited a previous communication sent by them in 2020 which was merely “sent to the capital for consideration.” According to the UN, the government has so far only responded to two of six such letters.

“We regret that no substantive response has been received to date, addressing the allegations of extrajudicial killings included in the communication, or answering the questions to your Excellency’s Government in relation to these allegations,” the special rapporteurs said in the October 2021 communication.

“If no inquiries have taken place, or if they have been inconclusive, please explain why, and how this is compatible with the Philippines’ international human rights obligations,” the communication added.

Rappler reported that in response to questions about the communication, justice secretary Menardo Guevarra inquired about the channel through which it was sent, but did not respond to the concerns raised in the letter. Apart from international agencies, Filipino groups have consistently raised such issues regarding attacks on activists and organizers of grassroots movements.

According to human rights group Karapatan, more than 200 activists have been killed so far in violent attacks by both right-wing vigilantes and the police under the Duterte administration. As of September, at least 400 activists had faced such attacks.