"I've told the military and the police that if they find themselves in an armed encounter with the communist rebels, kill them, make sure you really kill them and finish them off if they are alive," Duterte said Friday. "Just make sure to return their bodies to their respective families." The Philippine president continued, "Forget about human rights. That's my order. I'm willing to go to jail, that's not a problem. I do not have any qualms about doing the things that I have to do."
Just two days after these remarks, nine left-wing activists and labor leaders were executed at their homes and offices during a series of coordinated raids carried out jointly by the military and police in four provinces. The raids were reminiscent of police operations in which thousands of people have been killed as part of Duterte's signature war on drugs, in which police said all of the victims were armed and had resisted arrest.
According to Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), "It is not a coincidence..."
Duterte claims his government is putting down violent Maoist factions, human rights groups have warned the authoritarian president's anti-left crusade goes far beyond that—using the rhetoric of "counter-insurgency" to legitimate terrorizing and repressing leftists throughout the country, regardless of whether they are connected to the New People's Army, the armed wing of the national Communist Party.
"The fundamental problem," said Robertson, "is this campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and non-combatant activists, labor leaders, and rights defenders."
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, a progressive organization in the Philippines, said, "the activists who were killed had worked for a variety of organizations, including a group that works on behalf of Philippine fishermen and another that campaigned for the rights of the urban poor."
Mark Lee Bacasno and Melvin Dasigao, both members of the urban poor group San Isidro Kasiglahan; Ariel Evangelista and his wife, Chai Lemita Evangelista, fishermen's rights advocates
In the Philippines, 'red-tagging' is the practice of labeling opponents communists or terrorists to justify targeting them, which dates back to the the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos."
Robertson pointed out, "It is also not a coincidence that these incidents occurred in provinces overseen by the Southern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, led by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., who has led a vicious 'red-tagging' campaign against activists by accusing them of rebel links without providing any evidence that can stand up in a court of law."