Press Release
July 31, 2019

De Lima: Is there an AFP death squad in Negros Oriental?

Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has raised the possible existence of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) death squads roaming around Negros Island and targeting red-tagged civilians and officials, amid the rampant killings in the region.

"If there are police death squads for suspected drug offenders, are there now AFP death squads for red-tagged civilians and officials roaming around Negros Island?" De Lima posed the question in her Dispatch from Crame No. 566 in the wake of the continued spate of extrajudicial killings in Negros Island.

According to her, the number of civilians killed has spiked since the implementation of Memorandum Order (MO) No. 32 on Nov. 22, 2018, which directed the deployment of additional troops to Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, and Bicol Region supposedly to suppress lawless violence.

Since July 23, at least 13 people were reportedly killed in different towns and cities in Negros Oriental. Among them were human rights lawyer Anthony Trinidad, school principal Arthur Bayawa, barangay captains Romeo Alipan and Ernesto Posadas, city councilor Ramon Jalandoni, and former town mayor Edsel Enardecido.

Based on the human rights group Defend Negros Network, at least 87 individuals have been killed in Negros Island alone since Mr. Duterte assumed office in 2017, of whom 20 individuals died in 2017, 29 in 2018, and 38 in 2019.

"None of the victims are combatants. Some of them are actually public officials. The killings of civilians and officials only became rampant in the area after MO 32," said De Lima, the staunchest critic of the Duterte's sham war against illegal drugs.

With the rise of killings in Negros Island, De Lima said it is becoming more apparent that the Duterte regime is waging a different war, possibly using the AFP to summarily execute red-tagged civilians and public officials and human rights defenders.

"Now it appears that Duterte has found a way on how to involve the AFP in his EJK campaign. He found an enemy and a target for them - red-tagged civilians and public officials and human rights defenders," she said.

If the AFP allows itself to be used in Duterte's murderous campaign, the lady Senator from Bicol said the organization can no longer wash its hands in the ongoing crimes against humanity orchestrated by their commander-in-chief.

"If the AFP becomes complicit, Duterte would have succeeded in turning the entire security forces of the Philippines into a vigilante force operating outside of the law and with impunity," she pointed out.

De Lima, a former justice secretary, said the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are traversing a slippery slope if they allow themselves to be Duterte's private armed group instead of serving the interest of the Filipino people.

"With PNP and AFP death squads carrying out executions of civilians, the people no longer have anyone to turn to. Their protectors have become their attackers and oppressors," she said.

This 18th Congress, De Lima has refiled Senate Bill (SB) No. 179, seeking to promote and protect the rights of human rights defenders who bravely stand up against the excesses of the Duterte regime.

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