On 19 January, 2020, peasant organisers Emerito Pinza and Romy Candor went missing in Brgy. San Antonio, Kalayaan, Laguna. It was believed that elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Mobile Force, Battalion 4A, were involved in their disappearance.
According to Karapatan ST, the two were subsequently found buried in the Calamba Municipal Cemetery on 24 January, 2020. They had been buried under the false names of ‘Leo San Jose Dela Cruz’ for Emerito Pinza and ‘Bipar’ for Romy Candor. No legal documents were processed to authenticate the identities of the two remains and they were only positively identified as Pinza and Candor following exhumation.
According to Karapatan ST, Pinza and Candor’s remains were brought by soldiers from Camp Vicente Lim to a nearby funeral home on 21 January, 2020. The remains were then sent to the Calamba Municipal Cemetery on 23 January, 2020, as decomposition had set in and necessitated a burial. An army spokesperson claimed that the funerals were attended by a group of indigenous people claiming to be members of Pinza’s family and who allegedly said that they were thankful to the police for giving Pinza and Candor decent burials.
This version of events is at odds with a statement by Maribel Pinza, Emerito’s wife, in which she stated that she was not informed of her husband’s death.
Later, Major General Antonio Parlade Jr. of the Army’s Southern Luzon Command said on state media, that no one had claimed the bodies even “after four days,” and so they had to be buried.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has said that “it is alarmed over the series of attacks against human rights defenders in the country in the past two months, and has denounced what it called the “patterns of harassment” directed towards individuals who are only working with peoples’ organisations.”
The CHR has renewed its call to the government to rescind Executive Order No. 70, which formed a task force meant to end “local communist armed conflict,” following several attacks against human rights activists since the beginning of 2020. Progressive groups have said that the order was essentially a crackdown against voices of opposition and critics of the Duterte administration.
Land and environmental rights defenders and defenders from indigenous communities face very serious risks in the Philippines as they attempt to peacefully defend their land and oppose major industrial projects. These HRDs are disproportionately represented in the figures of the HRDs killed in 2020.
Under the Duterte administration, perpetrators – be they police, military or non-state actors – know that they can get away with killing human rights defenders. The killings are rarely investigated, which increases the vulnerability of HRDs who remain active, while undermining the human rights community’s confidence in the justice system. In addition, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which was hastily passed in July 2020, has further compounded the precarious situation for HRDs by legally formalising the practice of “red-tagging” defenders under overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism.