On 17 January, 2020, unidentified men killed Jennifer Tonag, organiser of the Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA), in Catarman the capital of Northern Samar, the Philippines.
At around 5 p.m. Tonag was on her way to the house of her stepfather in Catarman after attending a seminar sponsored by the provincial office of the Department of the Interior and Local Government when one of two men wearing hoods shot her from behind.
According to Alexander Philip Abinguna, secretary-general of the Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas, the Eastern Visayas chapter of Karapatan, local people suspect military involvement in the killing as Tonag, a 35-year-old mother of three, was among those previously “red-tagged” by the military as alleged communist sympathisers.
Amihan, (the National Federation of Peasant Women), blamed the brutality on President Rodrigo Duterte’s issuance of Memorandum Order 32 to target activists in Samar, Negros and Bicol. Peasant and human rights groups in Eastern Visayas have long opposed the serial extra-judicial killings, aerial bombings and heavy militarisation of rural communities, as the Duterte government categorised Samar Island as a “hotbed of the New People’s Army.”
According to Amihan, “Duterte’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Kapanatagan, is a total war policy. It does not differentiate between armed actors and members of legal and democratic organisations. The Duterte government accuses anyone who asserts the rights of the poor as NPA. It is intolerant of the legitimate grievances of the people.”
In a separate statement the Commission on Human Rights said that, “35-year-old Jennifer Tonag is just one of the many victims who have “faced reprisals due to exposing state-perpetrated human rights violations and demanding justice and accountability. The CHR calls for justice for the death of Tonag and all the human rights defenders in the country who have sacrificed their lives to create a better future for everyone, especially for the marginalised, vulnerable, and disadvantaged segments of our society.”