The Philippines: The killings of five journalists and activists in a week is evidence of a ‘license to kill’

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is deeply concerned over the renewed targeted attacks against journalists, human rights and political activists and indigenous people, in the Philippines. The victims, journalists, who are known critical of corruption and in local politics; rights activists and indigenous people, who are engaged in advocacy against extrajudicial killings and for the protection of the ancestral land of indigenous, have been killed in separate incidents.

On November 29 at 9:30pm, it was reported that Joas Dignos, a block time commentator at the dxGT Radyo Abante in Maramag, Bukidnon, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen riding on a motorcycle. Prior to his death, Joas has been receiving threats. On June 2, two unidentified men threw a hand grenade at the station while his pre-recorded radio program was being played on air.

On December 1, human rights group Karapatan reported that Rolen Langala, 35 years old and member of an indigenous tribe Higaonon, was killed in Opol, Misamis Oriental. He died from two gunshot and stab wounds. Rolen was with Ruel Tagupa, when they were attacked. Ruel, however, survived from the attack. Rolen and Ruel were on their way home from a town fiesta when they were accosted by Nestor Bahian, Eugene Papin and Ramil Salvan, all are members of the village council. Ruel saw Bahian shoot Rolen.

Rolen was a member of Pangalasag, an indigenous people’s organization whose former chairperson, Gilbert Paborada, was also killed in October 3, 2012. For details, see: AHRC-UAC-179-2012. Pangalasag is opposed to the operation of A. Brown, an agribusiness corporation that has a palm oil plantation in Opol, Misamis Oriental.

In December 5, at 7am, Aldrin Briones Rabulan, 44 years old, was found dead in Del Gallego, Camarines Sur. The soldiers were still present when a village guard saw Aldrin’s dead body lying on the ground. He suffered gunshot wounds to his back and feet. At 3am, about 20 soldiers attached to the Bravo Coy 49th IIB, Philippine Army, based in Ragay, Camarines Sur entered the house of Aquino Salcedo. Aquino is a member of a village council.

The soldiers led by 1Lt. Howard A. Ardedon tied Aldrin’s hands and feet after they found him in the house. Aldrin was one of those falsely charged with murder for the death of a certain Corporal Perillo in Labo, Camarines Sur. For more details, see: AHRC-UAU-036-2012.Rabulan was unarmed when he was killed.

On December 6, Pedro Tinga, 54 year-old, a farmer and leader of the Mansaka tribe, was killed by soldiers attached to the 71st Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army in Compostela Valley province.  Pedro was on his way to his farm when the soldiers shot him. He died instantly. Pedro was one of the victims who survived the typhoon Pablo in 2012. He was also among the beneficiaries of Indug Kautawan, an organization of the survivors of typhoon Pablo.

On December 6, it was also reported that Michael Diaz Milo, 34 years old and national supervisor of Prime Radio FM’s “Doc Alternatibo,” was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Tandag City. He was on his way home when two unidentified gunmen shot him at close range in the head.

The AHRC is shocked but not surprised by these attacks. In its 20-page report on the State of Human Rights in 2013, it revealed that these types of killings are part of a systematic, widespread and continuing attacks against journalists, human rights and political activists, indigenous people, amongst others, in the country. The report also notes that the strengthening of a legal framework has failed to displace, if not restructure, the problem of impunity that is deeply systemic.