BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The Senate panels which jointly looked into the series of killings in the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental have recommended that policemet, soldiers in the army, and a local anti-communist vigilante group be investigated for possible liabilities.
Senate Committee Report No. 33 was prepared by the committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Senator Ronald dela Rosa, and the committee on justice and human rights chaired by Senator Richard Gordon.
The report urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) Internal Affairs Services to determine whether police personnel and units involved in Oplan Sauron committed abuses or violated laws or the Revised Police Operational Procedures. They may face administrative and criminal liabilities.
The report also recommended that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) investigate personnel involved in Oplan Sauron for possible human rights abuses or violations of law.
“The series of killings seems to follow a crooked pattern. Unarmed civilians, peasants, human rights defenders, church workers, and even members of the police force who go after insurgents are likewise targeted and are murdered,” the Senate report pointed out. (LOOK: MAP: Negros killings since July 2016)
“No one was spared — men, women, and children suffered at the hands of lawless armed men,” the report said. (READ: Death comes unprovoked upon Negros Island)
The panels stressed that between October 2018 and July 2019, a series of killings and attempted killings took place in the two provinces of Negros Island. The cases included 9 farmers, who were shot to death by unidentified armed men in Sagay City, Negros Occidental, on October 20, 2018.
The Senate report pointed out that during the 8-month period between the launch of the Simultaneous Enhanced Managing of Police Operations on December 27, 2018, and of its second version, Oplan Sauron, on March 30, 2019, killings on the island escalated.
The “dreadful episodes of carnage and violence, however, continued to hound the terrorized Negros Islands,” the report stressed. (READ: TIMELINE: Killings in Negros)
Six people died while 31 were arrested in the simultaneous police operations on December 27, 2018. On March 30, 2019, during the wee hours, 14 people were killed in the raids.
The 14 victims, who were suspected members of the New People's Army, allegedly resisted arrest as cops served search warrants for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
The families of the victims, however, insisted that the cops, who reportedly wore bonnets, still executed the victims even if they had already yielded to them. They also noted irregularities in the raids.
In the Senate report, the joint panels stressed that one important angle that must not be ignored is the possible abuses that might have been committed by the members of the military and the police in implementing "all necessary measures to suppress any and all forms of lawless violence" in the affected provinces.
The Senate also asked the PNP and AFP to review, evaluate, and report to the President the effectiveness of Oplan Sauron vis-a-vis the objective to suppress and end lawless violence in the Negros Island. (READ: NEGROS ORIENTAL BLOODSHED: State-sponsored or insurgency-related?)
The report, which was signed by the 11 senators, walso called on authorities to identify who were behind the killings of individuals in the reported hit list of Kawsa Guihulnganon Batok Kumunista (Kagubak), an alleged anti-communist group which was named in a Senate hearing on August 27, 2019.
Included in the vigilante group's hit list was lawyer Anthony Trinidad of San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. He was gunned down on July 23, 2019, in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental.
Trinidad was among the 21 people killed in Negros Oriental in 10 days, from July 18 to 28 last year. Some of the victims were policemen, a principal, and a one-year-old boy.
The hearing was based on the Senate resolutions calling for a probe into the Negros killings filed by senators Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima.
Other recommendations in the report were:
Bolster ongoing investigations to identify the people behind the vigilante group and file appropriate criminal charges against them.
Deploy additional forces of the AFP and PNP to secure the two Negros provinces and, if possible, the neighboring provinces.
For the Commission on Human Rights to deploy more investigating officers to Negros Island to look into alleged human rights abuses committed against residents, the police, and the military; to be given additional budget to hire more investigators.
Intensify the anti-insurgency operations in identified areas in Negros Islands, but with due regard to the protection of human rights, and provide adequate socio-economic and psycho-social assistance to the families of individuals who were killed.