Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Sunday that the task force formed to investigate extrajudicial killings will determine why law enforcers used lethal force when they served search warrants for loose firearms and explosives, killing nine activists in the process on March 7.
He said the task force, created by Administrative Order 35, would find out if violence was necessary when members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) served search warrants in joint operations in several areas in Calabarzon.
“While it is true what they say that their operations were legal because they had search warrants, the questions are first, is it true what the law enforcers said that these groups served as fronts and they are actually members of violent groups, the New People’s Army,” Guevarra said, in a radio interview over radio dzBB.
“Secondly, if it was necessary that there would be violence in the serving of the warrants,” he said, casting doubt on police claims that the suspects fought back.
Under the 2012 Administrative Order No. 35, the inter-agency committee is mandated to investigate EJKs, enforced disappearances, torture and other violations of the right to life, liberty, and security of persons.
“The root of the violence, that is what the special investigating teams created by the DOJ would investigate,” said Guevarra, who heads the task force as Justice secretary. Members of the task force include the chairperson of the Presidential Human Rights Committee, the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the secretary of the Department of National Defense, the Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs, chief-of-staff of the AFP, director general of the PNP, and the director of the National Bureau of Investigation .
Guevarra said they have also requested the Commission on Human Rights to join them in the investigation.
“We were the ones that took the initiative to talk to CHR because that is one of the promises I made with the United Nations that we would work more closely from here on with our own Commission on Human Rights,” he said.
Guevarra said they have already informed the CHR that they have formed the special investigating teams under the AO 35 Committee and have asked for their cooperation in the case build-up.
The CHR reportedly said they are willing to cooperate with the AO 35 Committee.
At the same time, he brushed aside the statement from the UN Commissioner for Human Rights that criticized the “arbitrary killings” that occurred on “Bloody Sunday.”
“I do not know what was the basis of the comment because they are not here in the Philippines. What they only know may have come from the news reports so they are not in possession of any facts. I think it is still too early to make a conclusion on what happened here,” Guevarra said.
Meanwhile, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said police units should be trained to subdue their targets without firing a single shot.
“Based on recent horrific incidents, it would seem that many of our police officers tend to react violently, particularly by shooting, at the slightest provocation, or even without any provocation at all,” Pimentel said.
Also on Sunday, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines denounced the Department of Interior and Local Government's tagging of its 180,000-strong teachers' organization as a “known communist terrorist group” in its official memorandum, dated March 10, 2021.
“The memo flagrantly tramples on teachers and education workers' constitutionally protected freedom to associate, and makes us open targets of worse state attacks, such as the massacre and illegal arrest of several activists,” the group said. With Rio N. Araja