According to spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, OHCHR received information stating that at around 3:15am on Sunday, eight men and one woman were murdered in Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal as military and police executed search warrants issued with a Manila court.

“We are deeply concerned that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation, harassment and’red-tagging’ of human rights defenders”, she said, noting that a history of human rights advocates being”red-tagged” — or accused of fronting to its armed wing of the Communist party.

Rights activists in crosshairs
Among those killed were labour rights activist Emanuel Asuncion, together with husband and husband Chai Lemita-Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista, who worked on problems relating to the rights of fishing communities and were reportedly shot inside their property. Melvin Dasigao and Mark Lee Coros Bacasno were also among the victims; urges for housing rights of people rendered homeless, based on OHCHR.

Two indigenous peoples’ activists and 2 home rights activists were also among those killed and six people were arrested during the operations.

“The Government has advised us that the performance was based on search warrants issued in the context of its counter-insurgency effort against the New People’s Army”,” Ms. Shamdasani stated, briefing journalists in Geneva.

She pointed out that previous search warrants executed at night have also resulted in killings, including on 30 December when nine Tumandok native peoples’ rights activists were killed during joint operations, executing search warrants in Panay.

Strengthen investigative mechanisms
OHCHR welcomed the Government’s commitment to investigate such scenarios, which it called”a crucial test” for the domestic investigative mechanisms it had created.

While the UN is operating with the authorities to strengthen those mechanisms, Ms. Shamdasani stressed that they must be”instantaneous, transparent and powerful” to meet global standards.

She detailed the High Commissioner’s June 2020 Human Rights Council study on the Philippines documented”a serious lack of due process in police operations, also near-total impunity for using lethal force by the police and the military”.

In that report, the High Commissioner cautioned that”red-tagging” had demonstrated extremely hazardous and urged the security of human rights defenders, journalists and others in danger.

Call to actions
Recently, there have been dozens of activists and several journalists arrested, such as on Human Rights Day, 10 December.

“We urge the authorities to take urgent steps to prevent using excessive force resulting in loss of lives during law enforcement operations”, the OHCHR spokesperson said.

“We also call on the Government and members of the security forces to refrain from rhetoric that may result in violations, and instead make public commitments to uphold human rights and the rule of law”.