Malacañang vows probe on deaths of activists in Calabarzon

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 8) — Malacañang assured the public an investigation is underway on the deaths of activists in the Southern Tagalog region, but maintained that President Rodrigo Duterte's order to shoot and kill armed rebels is "legal."

In his briefing on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the government is obligated to probe the killings, which happened during simultaneous police operations in Calabarzon over the weekend.

"Ang siyam na napatay, iimbestigahan po natin 'yan dahil hindi po sila sakop ng IHL (International Humanitarian Law) dahil noong sila ay napatay wala naman silang hawak na baril," he said.

[Translation: We will look into the nine deaths because they are not covered by the International Humanitarian Law, because when they were killed, they were not holding any firearm.]

This was contrary to what the Philippine National Police reported. In an interview with CNN Philippines' New Day earlier in the day, Laguna Police Spokesperson PLtCol. Chitadel Gaoira said the suspects carried explosives and assorted weapons with them, which makes their operations "legitimate."

"Based on our records, a crime is usually committed with these firearms, with these instruments so we have these operations. We don't want to wait for the suspects to use these explosives and loose firearms in criminal or illegal activities," Gaoira said.

Of the fatalities, six were recorded in Rizal, two in Batangas, and one in Cavite. Meanwhile, six people were arrested, three each in Laguna and Rizal. However, Gaoira admitted they have yet to establish whether all of them were linked to previous groups and if they have been involved in previous crimes.

READ: 9 dead as police crackdown vs activists in Southern Tagalog 

Roque maintained that in line with International Humanitarian Law, Duterte's "shoot and kill" order applies to armed rebels in the middle of a conflict.

"Under IHL po, tama 'yung order ng Presidente, 'Kill Kill Kill,' kasi nga po kapag merong labanan, ang kalaban mo may baril na pwede kang patayin, alangan namang ikaw ang maghintay na ikaw ang pwedeng mabaril at mapatay."

[Translation: Under IHL, the President's order is correct, 'Kill, Kill, Kill,' because if there is conflict, your enemy is armed and you can be killed, of course you would not wait to get shot and die.]

He added: "Legal po iyan dahil ang sinabi niya ay para sa mga rebeldeng may hawak na armas."

[Translation: The order is legal because that applies to rebels with firearms.]

Duterte told members of the government's anti-communist task force on Friday that free housing and jobs will be provided to communist rebels who will surrender. For those who will not, the police and military must "make sure to kill them" during encounters if they see them with firearms.

Rights group Karapatan has so far identified seven of the nine fatalities, along with their affiliations. They were Emmanuel Asuncion of Bayan Cavite, Michael Dasigao and Mark Lee Bacasno of Sikadd-Montalban, Ana Marie Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista of Umalpas-ka in Batangas. They also named Puroy Dela Cruz and Randy Dela Cruz, both Dumagat leaders inTanay, Rizal. The group said they are still verifying information on the two other deaths.

Meanwhile, only four of the six arrested were identified as of writing: Elizabeth Camoral of Bayan Laguna, Karapatan paralegal Nimfa Lanzanas, Olalia Kilusang Mayo Uno Executive Vice Chair Esteban Mendoza, and Courage member Eugene Eugenio.

In a statement, the Commission on Human Rights announced it is already conducting an independent probe through its Calabarzon office. It also expressed concern on Duterte's order last Friday, noting that such words can "embolden some to act with abuse and impunity."

"We stress that, while CHR condemns the use of arms and violence to overthrow a government, human rights must be respected at all times. Crimes must be punished under the guidance of the rule of law and due process," it said.

Roque noted that the CHR can freely conduct its own probe, but authorities need not cooperate with the agency since they have their own investigation.

But when asked why there was no resolution on the deaths and arrests of red-tagged victims of the administration, Roque reasoned: "That's how the wheel of justice operates. It's not instant justice a la kangaroo court of the NPA. It takes time."