'Authorities have lost control of peace and order': Senators seek probe on vigilante killings in 2020
In this photo taken August 18, 2020, Anakpawis holds 'Candle Lighting for Justice' for slain activists Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez.

'Authorities have lost control of peace and order': Senators seek probe on vigilante killings in 2020

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - December 18, 2020 - 12:40pm

MANILA, Philippines — More than half the Senate wants to investigate the spate of unlawful killings that hounded the nation in 2020.

Senate Resolution No. 599, filed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, and signed by Sens. Ralph Recto, Franklin Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, and Richard Gordon, urges an inquiry to attain "justice for the slain victims and creating policies that restore the law and order in into the country." Sen. Joel Villanueva voiced his intention to co-author the measure after the resolution was filed on Thursday and Hontiveros' office has since confirmed that he will be recognized accordingly.

"The killings that occurred in the latter half of the year has set a trend of unidentified gunmen killing lawyers, doctors, journalists and activists in daylight and in public without fear of arrest of apprehension," the senators said.

"[The vigilantes] increasing brazenness and daring show how the law enforcement authorities have lost control of the country's peace and order and in doing so [caused] more families to lose their loved ones to lawless and unnecessary grief," they added.

The call for a probe was filed at the Senate just days after the murder of Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan, head of the COVID-19 task force in Guilhulngan City, Negros Occidental, and her husband, Edwin.

Rights group Karapatan earlier this week said the doctor was placed as the top entry on a hit-list by an anti-communist vigilante group before she and her husband were shot dead by two people onboard a motorcycle.

More hearings on red-tagging

"At a time of the biggest health crisis the country has ever seen, I am alarmed that this anti-communist agenda reigned over the literal health and survival of the Filipino people. Dr. Sancelan and her husband are only few of the victims of a failing and senseless red-tagging campaign hellbent on crippling our democracy," Hontiveros said in a statement released Thursday.

"This attack is only one of the many horrific killings in the country, legitimized by an administration that has distorted the meaning of human rights,” she added.

Amid uproar over accusations and threats hurled against celebrities, groups, and lawmakers by defense officials, Sen. Ping Lacson, who heads the committee on defense and is a principal author of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, in November launched a probe into the practice of red-tagging. But the hearings that followed were criticized by many as a venue which was made conducive to more red-tagging and subsequently endangering the lives of more individuals — something which Lacson denies.

Still, after three hearings stretching on for hours long, no committee report has been filed and no officials have been held accountable. Meanwhile, red-tagged activists and critics of the government have continued to die. The upper chamber's track record in exercising its oversight function on security forces is also dismal, with the 18th Congress filing less than ten resolutions seeking probes into abuses — only three of which have been heard.

"I ask everyone, especially our own government officials, to cease all careless and pernicious red-tagging of our people. Innocent lives are at stake. When you openly vilify and tag civilians as communist rebels, you only lend credence to the suspicion that you have blood on your hands,” Hontiveros said.

President Rodrigo Duterte and other members of the Executive branch continue to insist that they are actually "truth-tagging," when they make inflammatory statements about individuals and groups in public even as they fail to present conclusive proof to back up their claims. 

Among the other cases detailed in the resolution were the murders of lawyer Jovencio Senados, who was killed on his way to work as Manila City Prosecutor’s Office’s Division Chief, former Karapatan Education Director Zara Alvarez, peasant leader and activist Randall Echanis, who was gruesomely tortured before being killed and whose daughter Amanda is currently imprisoned along with her month-old baby.

"Our law enforcement must prove to the Filipino public that law and order is still a reality that they are working towards. Let us ensure that the perpetrators of these abominable crimes are brought to justice. There is no peace when there is no justice,” the resolution concludes.

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