One of the most brutal premeditated attacks on activists in recent memory took place last March 7, dubbed “Bloody Sunday.” Nine people were murdered by state forces and six others were arrested in a police operation that spanned four provinces in the Southern Tagalog region.

The slain victims were Emmanuel Asuncion in Cavite, Chai and Ariel Evangelista in Batangas, Melvin Dasigao, Randy and Puroy Dela Cruz, Mark Lee Bacasno and Abner and Edward Esto in Rizal Province.

Rosalinda Salundaga, was at home with her live-in partner Melvin Dasigao when he was murdered. They lived in a government resettlement site that has been abandoned for many years. Until Dasigao, and his comrades from SIKKAD, a local urban poor organization led an organized occupation by nearby homeless folk of the housing units. Dasigao eventually stood as the group’s chairperson.

At around 3:00 a.m., she remembered seeing armed men from their window followed by loud banging on their door. The cops were yelling, ordering the couple to open up. Once they did, they saw that the entire street was filled with armed men, too many to count.

The cops ordered the family to step outside, Dasigao was trailing his partner and two daughters. As soon as the three had stepped out, the cops blocked Melvin and ordered him to lie face down with his arms up. They closed the doors and a few moments later, Rosalinda heard three gunshots.

“There was no warrant of any kind shown to us,” said Salundaga. She attested that Melvin’s name had been put on a list of names the authorities considered members of the NPA.

Hours passed, the cops kept Salundaga and her two kids on the street, not allowing any of them to leave or talk to passing neighbors. She saw how they dragged the bloodied body of Melvin out. They told her and showed her that two pistols and a grenade were found among her belongings.

“How will we have any kind of grenade or gun? We have been surviving on relief goods since the pandemic started!” she lamented.

“Don’t mind human rights”

Two days prior, at a public gathering of military personnel, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his troops to “kill them all,” referring to communist insurgents.

Red-tagging has been a persistent feature of the regime. It is the method of blurring the lines between actual armed rebels and civilian activists, lumping them all in the same basket as enemies of the state. Through Executive Order 70 penned by the President in 2018 and its result, the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the administration hopes to end the rebellion by the end of his term in 2022.

However, the main problem is that it seems the bulk of these efforts are going into cracking down on legal and unarmed dissenters, as seen last Sunday. The danger of red-tagging, especially when President Duterte engages himself, is that it puts anyone critical of the status quo in the government’s trigger-happy sights. The operations in Southern Tagalog also follow a string of assaults against human rights defenders. Among these was the near-death wounding of Angelo Karlo Guillen, the red-tagged lawyer for the Tumandok Indigenous peoples whose community suffered a massacre in December last year. An assailant stabbed Guillen in the temple with a screwdriver.

“Don’t mind human rights,” President Duterte added in his address.

Ironically, days later, presidential spokesman Harry Roque defended the operation by stating that the government abided by international humanitarian law in the operations since engaging with armed groups is bound to have casualties.

This was backed up by the statements of Felipe Natividad, director of the Philippine National Police in the region, saying they acquired 24 search warrants served under the auspices that their targets were members of the Communist Party and its guerrilla wing, the New People’s Army or NPA. In the police report, they cited that the raids yielded a “large cache of firearms and explosives.”

However, there glaring signs of tanim-ebidensya, now a common colloquial term meaning planted evidence. The PNP has been accused many times of this, with even one of their own coming out to expose the dirty practice that has led to so many deaths.

Families dispute police claims

Melinda Dela Cruz, wife of Puroy Dela Cruz recalled the events on March 7. Her husband was awake when the police arrived at around 3:00 a.m. He was nursing an ulcer as they had eaten very little during dinner.

The couple are Dumagat, an Indigenous people in the Philippines. They lived in the poorest sections of Tanay, Rizal. Dela Cruz shared that, like the experience of the other victims, she and her children were forcibly pulled out of their home before her husband was assassinated. Also, like in the other cases, there was no warrant presented.

“I’m very scared because I feel like I’m always in danger now. We haven’t gone home since, sleeping anywhere but there. We don’t have money to move, and our problem now is where my children and I are going to live,” she told The News Lens.

Despite the fact that many from the Dumagat have gone on to form organizations and campaign for their land rights, Dela Cruz mentioned that her husband was generally not active in any of them and at best, merely supportive of their advocacy.

“He was a very gentle person. He never drank alcohol and we always went to church on Sundays. If the authorities can hear me, I would like to beg them that taking my husband is enough, just leave me and my children alone,” she cried.

The pattern is chilling, growing more frequent and endangering more people. Because the administration continues to justify its actions despite more information about the killings coming to light, the prospect of more victims looks increasingly likely.

READ NEXT: Philippines: The Tactics Behind Red-Tagging

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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