Two days after President Rodrigo Duterte told police and soldiers to “kill” and “finish off” communist rebels in encounters, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) mounted a deadly crackdown in Calabarzon on Sunday, March 7.
As of 1 pm on Sunday, police and soldiers reported killing 9 and arresting 6 individuals believed to be with activist groups in Laguna, Rizal, and Batangas, provinces surrounding capital region Metro Manila.
Police said in their report that they were serving search warrants, but progressive groups described them as executions.
Among those killed was Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion, secretary general of BAYAN in Cavite, who is a known mass organizer in the Southern Tagalog.
Labor rights group PAMANTIK-KMU also identified Chai Lemita Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista as fatalities in the operations.
They are members of progressive group Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA). They were survived by a 10-year-old child.
The operations were still ongoing as of 1:30 pm, Calabarzon police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Chitadel Gaoiran told Rappler in a phone interview.
Here is the breakdown of individuals killed and arrested, according to the consolidated report of the PNP and AFP as of 2:50 pm:
Laguna – 3
Rizal – 3
TOTAL – 6
DIED IN POLICE OPERATIONS
Cavite – 1
Batangas – 2
Rizal – 6
TOTAL – 9
Batangas – 1
Rizal – 8
TOTAL – 9
The Sunday crackdown is one of the biggest one-day offensives of the police and military against activist groups, many of which have been red-tagged by the Duterte administration.
In a phone interview with Rappler, Calabarzon police chief Brigadier General Felipe Natividad said the operations are only in compliance with Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70, which ordered a whole-of-nation approach to ending the communist insurgency in the Philippines.
The executive order emphasized the need for “delivery of basic services and social development packages in conflict-affected and -vulnerable areas,” but the Duterte government has been bent on using police and the military to assault communist forces, including activists who have been red-tagged without basis.
Sunday’s crackdown comes after Duterte on Friday, March 5, declared in a speech: “I’ve told the military and the police, that if they find themselves in an armed encounter with the communist rebels, kill them, make sure you really kill them, and finish them off if they are alive.”
Leaders lost: The 9 activists killed by Duterte government on ‘Bloody Sunday’
The March 7 “Bloody Sunday” was a big day of loss for activists in the Philippines.
Within hours, the police and military served a total of 24 search warrants in the Calabarzon region, leading to 9 deaths and 6 arrests.
It was one of the deadliest days for activists in recent history, set against the backdrop of the Duterte administration’s crackdown on the Communist Party of the Philippines and groups linked to it.
As of Monday afternoon, March 8—a day after the raids—the police have yet to name the fatalities in their raiding spree, forcing activists to check among their ranks who law enforcers targeted.
Groups finally completed the list by 6 pm.
Each of them held advocacies that challenged the powers that be, from labor organizing to farmers’ rights to climate justice—all the way to their brutal end.
We tell their stories below.
Model activist lost
Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion was a known labor and multi-sectoral leader in Cavite. He was the coordinator of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-Cavite) before he was slain at the Workers’ Assistance Center in Dasmariñas by the Calabarzon police.
As the spokesperson of BAYAN-Cavite, Asuncion was in charge of all information related to development aggression or reportage of human rights violations in the province.
Kyle Salgado, spokesperson of human rights monitor Karapatan Southern Tagalog, described Asuncion as a model activist and organizer in Calabarzon.
“Siya talaga ang modelo ng isang idol kong tibak – magaling mag-propaganda, mag-organisa, at magpakilos, kaya lagi siyang inaabangan tuwing siya na ang magsasalita kapag may mobilisasyon – sa probinsya man ng Cavite o sa mga panrehiyong pagkilos sa Timog Katagalugan (He’s really the role model and my idol activist—very good with propaganda, organizing, and mobilization, that’s why people look forward to hearing him speak during mobilizations—whether in the province of Cavite or in regional activities in Southern Tagalog),” Salgado wrote in a Facebook post.
He was the chairperson of Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW) until 2004 and was its spokesperson until 2007. In 2010, he was elected council member of the organization.
He also entered politics after running as a municipal councilor for Rosario, Cavite under the ticket of former mayor Jose “Nonong” Ricafrente.
In 2009, he was the municipal coordinator of Bayan Muna party in Rosario and concurrently served as the vice chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Cavite.
As a former Bayan Muna leader, Asuncion was one of the 72 activists charged with murder and frustrated murder in Mindoro in 2007. They were collectively known as the Southern Tagalog 72 or ST 72, which consisted of members and heads of various organizations involved in a New People’s Army raid in Puerto Galera on March 3, 2006.
In 2019, he joined Pamalakaya and other fisherfolk of Bacoor in their fight against reclamation in the province.
4 housing rights activists slain
“Makmak” was a member of San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD-K3), a legal organization that advocates for housing rights in Kasiglahan Village, Rodriguez, Rizal.
Abner and Edward Esto were also members of SIKKAD-K3. A day after the deadly crackdown, Pamantik KMU confirmed that the siblings were the 8th and 9th casualties.
Human rights monitor Karapatan Timog Katagalugan chapter went to 3 different funeral parlors in Tanay, Rizal: St. Peter Chapel Funeral, Tanay Funeral Homes, and San Isidro Funeral Homes, to look for the bodies of the Esto siblings.
As of Monday 7 pm, the bodies were not yet found.
In 2017, at least 200 residents of Barangay San Isidro inhabited the unoccupied housing units in Rizal and have fought for them since then. They were originally homeless before deciding to occupy the housing units in the province, asserting their housing rights.
SIKKAD-K3, along with the Montalban Homeless Alliance (MHA), were red-tagged by the police and military, according to a report of Bulatlat.com, an alternative news organization.
In May 2020, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) organized a meeting with at least 80 members of SIKKAD-K3, because according to them, the members of the organization were sympathizers and members of the CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
However, NTF-ELCAC’s claim was immediately disputed by human rights monitor Karapatan, which said that SIKKAD-K3 is a legal organization.
SIKKAD-K3 also opposes the quarrying activities in Rizal province.
Michael “Greg” Dasigao was the president of SIKKAD-K3. He was also the marshal security officer of Kasiglahan Village for relief operations conducted in the area during calamities.
As head of the organization, he assisted poor communities and handled concerns of local farmers in quarrying sites in the province. He also actively assisted residents of Kasiglahan Village in the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses.
Dasigao was also active in supporting student organizations. On February 28, 2021, he joined Serve The People Brigade-UPLB, a student organization that distributed relief packs for farmers and scavengers in Rodriguez, Rizal.
Dumagat members targeted
Members of the Dumagat tribe were also among the fatalities. Puroy dela Cruz and Randy “Pulong” dela Cruz were killed between 3 and 4 am on Sunday.
The Dumagats are a major and semi-nomadic indigenous group in Calabarzon, estimated to number around 30,000.
Puroy and Pulong were both activists with the group Dumagat Sierra Madre, which advocated for the rights of indigenous peoples.
In a report by Pinoy Weekly, an online news organization that covers mass movements, the wives of the two victims shared how their husbands were killed.
Puroy’s wife, Minda dela Cruz, said she was ordered by police to leave their house while Puroy stayed inside. Outside, she heard 4 gunshots. She saw Puroy dead inside after.
Pulong’s wife, Violy dela Cruz, said that an “armed group” barged into their home. Violy was ordered to leave their home too and told to stay away, around “50 meters” from their house. Still, Violy heard consecutive gunshots and found Pulong dead.
Pinoy Weekly reported that the two were placed in black body bags then carried to a helicopter labeled “PNP.”
The police said they served a warrant against the two for allegedly owning a pistol, an M-16 rifle, and rocket-propelled grenades.
Among those killed, too, were the couple Chai Lemita Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista.
They were fisherfolk who worked as staffers with the Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA) in Nasugbu, Batangas.
The group is a peasant organization fighting against mining, land-grabbing, and climate change. In a statement, Gabriela described the couple as “diligent members” of the organization, who led fisherfolk in their community.
On Sunday morning, the couple was sleeping in a hut near the shore in Barangay Calayo when they were raided by the police.
“Nakarinig ang mga kapitbahay ng mga putok ng baril at sigaw ng pagmamakaawa sa panahong iyon. Mabilis na dinampot ng mga pulis ang mga katawan nila Ariel at Chai (Their neighbors heard screams and pleas. Their bodies were quickly picked up by the police),” reported labor rights group Pamantik KMU.
Chai’s mother, Inda Lemita, looked for the couple for hours at hospitals. She found them dead at a funeral home.
They are survived by their 10-year-old child.
Women’s rights group Amihan slammed President Duterte, calling him an “orphan-maker.”
“This is an outright attack on the people’s right to organize, freedom of speech and expression, and right to life and safety. This is an undisputed case of crimes against humanity,” Amihan said in a statement.