In the Philippines’ Compostela Valley, leaders of the local peasant organisation are being targeted, the latest being Rodrigo Timoteo of Barangay Mambusao, Compostela who was shot dead last November 29, 2017. He is only the latest among those executed in the same manner among peasant leaders in Compostela Valley and elsewhere.
The blood trail now extends from Mindanao to the Visayas with reports of similar atrocities in the North and reportedly accompanied by smear campaigns targeting and vilifying women activists. All of these developments indicate not just the shrinking democratic space in the country but a state of de facto martial rule where activists who fight for peasant and indigenous peoples’ rights are either killed, usually by hooded assassins, incarcerated under trumped-up charges, or threatened with bodily harm including threats against their loved ones.
These troubling events occur in the context of the collapse of the peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF and President Duterte’s unleashing the dogs of war against what he describes as legal fronts of the armed communist group. In an unprecedented verbal attack from the president, he has threatened in a public forum to arrest members of activist organizations. this can only result in a spike in state-sanctioned murders and other human rights violations.
Under present Philippine law, it is not a crime to wield any type of political belief, even convictions such as communism are protected by the Constitution. It is under this democratic principle that progressive groups should be left alone and even defended by state forces.
But Duterte’s recent pronouncements counter this democratic principle by verbally removing the distinction between armed belligerent groups and those they perceive to be sympathetic members of organizations usually at the forefront of human rights work. His statements actually put in harm’s way thousands of freedom-loving activists whom he has now labelled effectively as dissidents thereby making them fair game to death squads all over the country. Paramilitary groups and military assassins such as the ones suspected of killing Nene Badayos in Negros Oriental and Pastor Hoyle in Agusan del Norte are now given license to kill by no less an authority than President Duterte to continue with their killing spree.