Bloody Sunday in the Philippines

News Philippines Jul 12, 2019 at 3:45 pm

201901wr_philippines_human_rights3 Daylight Killings Highlight Rampant Impunity

By Carlos H. Conde
Human Rights Watch

Three people – an activist church worker, a provincial politician, and a businessman – were killed in separate attacks in the Philippines on Sunday by unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles.

The media reported that on July 7, gunmen shot dead Salvador Romano, 42, in Negros Oriental, a central province long wracked by killings over land rights. Romano was attacked as he left a church of the Philippine Independent Church, where he worked as a youth advisor. He formerly volunteered for the human rights group Karapatan, whose members have long been victims of extrajudicial killings.

Earlier that morning, Wenefredo Olofernes, 52, a well-known member of the Dinagat provincial legislature, was fatally shot once in the head by gunmen while riding his motorcycle home in Surigao City. Assassinations of politicians are common in the Philippines.

The media also reported the killing that day of Arnel Agustin, a businessman from Cagayan province, north of Manila. Gunmen on a motorbike killed him and wounded his wife in their pickup truck.

The three killings are unrelated, but share the modus operandi of killers commonly referred to in the Philippines as “riding in tandem”: two people riding a motorbike, wearing ski masks or balaclavas, and using a .45 caliber pistol (at least in the shootings of Romano and Agustin). According to the police, about four people are killed this way in the Philippines every day.

These three cases highlight the breakdown in law and order in the Philippines. Guns for hire – whether paid hitmen or local government-linked “death squads” – operate knowing that the risk of arrest, let alone successful prosecution, is miniscule. It’s no surprise that many of the hired guns are police officers. And as killings in the government’s “war on drugs” have expanded and come under increased global scrutiny, the police have outsourced many “drug war” killings.

“Riding-in-tandem” killings, and the government’s failure to stop them, are a daily reminder of the need for greater international monitoring. The United Nations Human Rights Council is poised to adopt a resolution on the human rights crisis in the Philippines. It may not end the carnage but will put the government on notice that it needs to.