Philippines: killings of five Human Rights Defenders (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of the Philippines on 28 October 2021. It remained confidential for 60 days during which time the Government was expected to respond. The Government responded on 28 October 2021.

BACKGROUND

Topic: the killings of human rights defenders Mr. Emmanuel Asuncion, Mr. Mark ‘Makmak’ Licoros Bacasno, Mr. Melvin Dasigao, Mrs. Ana Mariz “Chai” Lemita-Evangelista and Mr. Ariel Evangelista, allegedly in relation to their human rights work.

Mr. Emmanuel Asuncion was a labour rights defender and the coordinator of the Cavite chapter of the Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan), an umbrella organisation of workers’ unions, peasant associations, youth, women, and indigenous peoples, committed to advocating for social rights, and the organising of campaigns protesting the extra-judicial killings of human rights defenders and the militarization of communities.

Mr. Mark ‘Makmak’ Licoros Bacasno and Mr. Melvin Dasigao were human rights defenders, youth organisers, and members of SIKKAD K3, a group working for the rights of the urban poor. Aside from being active participants in the educational discussions and activities of the organisation, Mr. Bacasno and Mr. Dasigao frequently helped in community-based efforts for typhoon relief and rehabilitation programmes organised by SIKKAD K3.

Mrs. and Mr. Evangelista were human rights defenders and leaders of the progressive group for fisherfolk, Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan and Calayo Beach Resort and Homeowners Association (CABRESA). Mr. Ariel Evangelista was a strong advocate of the protection of rights of members of his community. The Evangelistas played a key role in leading their community against the establishment of at least 150 units of fish cages on the town’s communal fishing grounds. They were also involved in the advocacy on the Manila Southcoas Development Corporation’s land seizure of the 5,000-hectare Hacienda Looc.

Concerns regarding the killings of human rights defenders in the Philippines have been raised in several previous Special Procedures communications, including most recently in PHL 1/2021. While thankful for the reply informing us that the communication was sent to the capital for consideration, we expressed regret that no substantive response has been received to date.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

ALLEGATIONS

On 7 March 2021, police and military reportedly carried out raids across four provinces throughout the Southern Tagalog region. These raids resulted in the alleged arrests and killings of labour leaders, community organisers, human rights defenders and indigenous people, and is now known as the “Bloody Sunday” raids. The raids were allegedly conducted as part of the joint operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army under Case Operation Plan ASVAL, against individuals and organizations that have been red-tagged as affiliates or fronts of “communist terrorist groups”. The alleged killings and arrests occurred after the Philippine President spoke
publicly, ordering the police and military to “kill” and “finish off” all alleged communist rebels in the country.

The case of Mr. Emmanuel Asuncion

On 7 March 2021 at approximately 5:30AM, a volunteer of the Workers’ Assistance Center (WAC) woke up to police knocking on the door of the WAC’s office in Dasmariñas, Cavite Province, where the volunteer, Mr. Asuncion, and his wife were staying.

After no one opened the door, at least five police officers reportedly entered the office and were in the kitchen. Mr. Asuncion raised his hands as the police allegedly pointed a gun at him, and he was forced to lie face down on the floor of the kitchen, with a police officer’s foot stepping on him and with a gun still pointed at him.

The volunteer asked the police if they had a search warrant, to which the police officers allegedly responded by telling the volunteer to stop asking questions and asked the volunteer’s identity. The volunteer was allegedly brought outside the office and forced to sit at the gate, where there were three Hi-Ace vans and a police car from Laguna province. Mr. Asuncion’s wife was
also brought outside the office to sit with the volunteer.

Minutes later, Mr. Asuncion’s wife and the volunteer heard a gunshot from inside the office. The police officers alleged that Mr. Asuncion resisted the police officers and that he had grabbed a gun. Three more gunshots were heard a few minutes later, after which a police officer approached the volunteer alleging that they were “poisoning people’s minds” and asked questions about
the volunteer’s connection with the organisation, Bayan.

Later, a police car drove inside the compound of the WAC’s office, where Mr. Asuncion’s body was brought. More police officers went inside the WAC’s office to search it for almost an hour. It was reported that a photo was taken with Barangay (village) representatives as alleged proof that they were witnesses to the police search.

According to the police, they were looking for a grenade allegedly in Mr. Asuncion’s possession, although they did not find one in the office. The police took all of Mr. Asuncion’s belongings, including his mobile phones, a flash drive, a wallet that contained a school ID with a home address, his graduation photo, ATM card, and personal money. Mr. Asuncion’s wife and the volunteer allegedly found materials which were not there prior to the police entry in one room of the office, such as flags of underground organizations.

Meanwhile, police officers also went to the Asuncion’s children’s residence in Rosario, Cavite at 5:40AM, where the police allegedly recovered and confiscated numerous firearms. A Vice Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 4, reportedly issued the search order in Rosario,
Cavite.

The case of Mr. Mark ‘Makmak’ Licoros Bacasno and Mr. Melvin Dasigao On 7 March 2021, at approximately 6AM, armed men arrived at the house of Mr. Bacasno in Kasiglahan Village Rodriguez Rizal. Police broke down the door of the house, which awoke Mr. Bacasno from his sleep. He was ordered by the police to keep quiet and to lie down. Another police officer shouted that he had found a gun inside the house. It was reported that gunshots were then heard coming from inside Mr. Bacasno’s home.

In the spot record of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group – Regional Force Unit 4A, the raid on Mr. Bacasno’s home was allegedly conducted by personnel from the CIDG-RFU 4A, Regional Intelligence Division 4A, Laguna Provincial Police Office and Batangas Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) of the Provincial Police Office. A judge from the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 37 allegedly issued the search warrant against Mr. Bacasno.

On 7 March 2021, at approximately 3AM, armed men forcibly entered Mr. Dasigao’s home through the front door. Mr. Dasigao and his partner were forced to lie on the ground, face down, and Mr. Dasigao’s hands were tied behind his neck. Reportedly, three police officers entered, but more were seen outside their house. The couple and their children were told to step out of the house, but the police blocked Mr. Dasigao, ordering him to lie face down on the floor again inside the house.

The police officers took Mr. Dasigao’s partner and the children a bit farther from the house, as three police officers guarded them. It was reported that three gunshots were later heard in the house. After a few minutes, the police officers brought out Mr. Dasigao’s body.

The police officers did not present a search warrant when they entered the house, even after the shooting of Mr. Dasigao. In a police report, the police officers claimed that there was a search warrant for Mr. Dasigao allegedly violating RA 10591 with SW#21-31062 and another for violation of RA 9516 with SW#21-30063. The search warrants were allegedly issued by a judge from the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 18 on 4 March 2021. According to the police report, Mr. Dasigao and Mr. Bacasno were taken to Ynares Hospital but were declared dead around 8AM.

In December 2017, Mr. Bacasno, Mr. Dasigao and other SIKKAD K3 occupied hundreds of idle units in Kasiglahan Village. Since their relocation in the community, they have reportedly been persistently threatened and harassed by the military units assigned or those who patrol the area. On May 25, 2020, soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army convened a meeting with the residents, where members of SIKKAD K3 were allegedly accused of being members of the Communist Party of the Philippines. They were told to clear their names with the military.

The case of Mrs. Ana Mariz “Chai” Lemita-Evangelista and Mr. Ariel Evangelista

On 7 March 2021 after approximately 4:00AM, a relative of Mrs. Evangelista woke up hearing and seeing movements of armed men in fatigue uniforms within the family`s compound in Sitio Hulo, Brgy. Calayo, Nasugbu town, Batangas province.

The relative went outside his house and was held at gun point as the men questioned him about the whereabouts of Mrs. and Mr. Evangelista. The relative told them that he did not know where the couple were. The relative then went to Mrs. Evangelista’s mother’s home nearby.

The armed men went inside the cottage, where Mrs. and Mr. Evangelista, and their son were sleeping. Their son woke up and saw his father lying face down on the ground with his hands handcuffed behind his back. Mrs. Evangelista was heard screaming for help and that there were soldiers. At that time, a neighbour witnessed Mrs. Evangelista being pulled away from the cottage. She and Mr. Evangelista were forcibly taken inside the relative’s house. A neighbour heard Mrs. Evangelista shouting for help from inside the house. Soon after, gunshots were reportedly heard from the relative’s house. There were allegedly at least 30 uniformed personnel with firearms inside the compound and at nearby lots.

Another neighbour later witnessed two bodies wrapped in blankets being loaded onto a waiting vehicle. Between 6:00AM and 7:00AM of the same day, the PNP Scene of the Crime Operations team arrived at the crime scene to investigate. A uniformed police officer also presented a search warrant for alleged illegal possession of explosives against Mrs. and Mr. Evangelista. A presiding judge from the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 174 allegedly issued the warrant on 4 March 2021, with a validity of 10 days. According to Mrs. Evangelista’s relative, when the armed men talked to him, no one presented any search or arrest warrants. Allegedly, there was also no
prior coordination with the village authorities.

Mrs. and Mr. Evangelista were brought in to a funeral home between 9:00AM and 10:00AM, as reported by the funeral home’s administrator. A source further reported that the Evangelistas had been taken earlier to Nasugbu Memorial Hospital, where the couple were declared dead on arrival.

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed grave concerns at the continued allegations of extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders, some of which allegedly emanated from law enforcement agencies. We are seriously concerned by the information which would indicate that these individuals have been targeted in response to their legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression, as well as the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Despite repeated communications to you’re the Government of the Philippines raising these issues, we continue to receive information that, rather than improving, the situation for human rights defenders in the Philippines continues to deteriorate. The Government should take urgent and effective steps to ensure the safety and security of human rights defenders and to create an enabling environment for them to carry out their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.

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