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CHR to probe into shooting of Bayan Muna coordinator Larry Villegas

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CHR to probe into shooting of Bayan Muna coordinator Larry Villegas
This photo taken on December 10, 2020 shows protesters with slogans against "red-tagging" on their hats and placards as they take part in a protest to commemorate International Human Rights Day near the presidential palace in Manila. A torrent of misinformation on the social media platform has put activists, journalists, politicians and lawyers in the firing line as President Rodrigo Duterte's government and military out alleged supporters of a decades-old Maoist insurgency.
AFP / Maria Tan, File

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights said it was "deeply concerned" with the attempted killing of transport leader and Bayan Muna General Santos coordinator Larry Villegas which it condemned Monday.

To recall, Villegas, 64, sustained several gunshot wounds after an unidentified gunman broke into his house in Barangay Buayan, General Santos City early Sunday, March 13, and shot him. Villegas was said to have been previously a recipient of death threats.

In a statement sent to reporters Monday, the CHR said its regional bureau in Soccsksargen is already conducting a probe and shall work with local authorities to shed light on the incident. The shooting happened despite a “gun ban” being enforced by the Commission on Elections and the Philippine National Police ahead of the 2022 elections. 

"Although Villegas survived the incident, CHR condemns this attack perpetrated towards a political convenor and urges for local police enforcers to act quickly in pursuit of those behind this crime," the commission's statement read.

"Whatever the motive may be, an assault to human life should immediately warrant action from the government to demonstrate that lawlessness and vigilante-style violence have no place in a democratic society."

According to a local report, Villegas is also chairperson of the Rajah Buayan Transport Cooperative. Bayan Muna earlier said that Villegas was "in the thick of leading the preparations of Bayan Muna to support the Peoples' Rally of the Leni-Kiko tandem" when the attack happened.

The Makabayan bloc, which Bayan Muna is part of, has openly supported Vice President Leni Robredo's campaign and activist organizations have been present at the vice president's rallies.

Under the Duterte administration, the national government has branded activist groups, especially those in the Makabayan bloc, as "communist fronts" and has equated activism with taking up arms.

"The undemocratic forces behind these attacks clearly want the status quo to continue and the candidates who will carry on these policies to win. This incident must be independently investigated and the perpetrators be held accountable," Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna) said in an earlier statement. 

The UN Human Rights Office and the Commission on Human Rights have repeatedly pointed out that equating activism with terrorism could lead to harassment and intimidation.

Support for and membership in activist groups does not mean membership in or support for the communist armed struggle.

"With national and local elections fast approaching, we urge local governments and law enforcers to remain alert against election-related violence meant to disrupt the lawful exercise of political rights and threaten other rights," the CHR also said. 

BAYAN MUNA

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

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