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“Tokhang”-Style Raids Against Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines

The Philippines is moving in a dangerous direction by placing human rights defenders, government critics, and all those working to improve the lives of ordinary Filipinos in grave danger.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-Canada), strongly condemns a state sanctioned resolution for the incitement of extrajudicial killings by the Cordillera Administrative Region’s Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee. Together with law enforcement agencies and local government units (LGUs) they are allowing the “Tokhang” strategy against “left-leaning” personalities in government, media and other entities. Tokhang is the local word for knock and plead and describes police operations that were launched by the Duterte ad- ministration. “Tokhang”-style executions are extrajudicial killings under the pretext of “resisting arrest” or “nanlaban/fought back”. These tactics were used in the drug war and are now being applied to human rights defenders.

This resolution is a direct violation of people’s right to due process, to freedom of association, against illegal search and yes, the right to life. Those who signed the said resolution should be ashamed of themselves for allowing tokhang to continue. Any killing, threat or arrest of individuals “red-tagged” as sympathetic to the Left is on their list of crimes.

The police tactic of Oplan Tokhang has resulted in thousands dead in the name of Duterte’s war on drugs, launching suits at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on crimes against humanity vs. Duterte. Despite the violence of the method, this new resolution allows the police to target individuals who have not committed any crimes, and provides actors of state violence even more justification to red-tag and kill with impunity.

One signatory, lawyer Romel Daguimol, the regional chief of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) withdrew his signature saying this resolution is inconsistent with CHR’s position, acknowledging that activism is not a crime.

Recent killings and arrests of activists have shown the dangers of red tagging, especially for indigenous people who are protecting their ancestral domains and way of life. This resolution came in after the killings of 9 Tumandok, indigenous peoples, by the 12th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (12IBPA) troopers and the Philippine National Police in Western Visayas. The organization they were a part of TUMADOK were initially red tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

On January 22, 2021, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) Chairperson, Windel Bolinget was another victim of the dangerous red-tagging with a “shoot to kill order” and ₱100,000 bounty on his head. A trumped-up case of murder was filed by a police officer in a court in Tagum City, Davao Del Norte, Philippines in 2020 for the death of a Lumad in Mindanao. In fear for his life and his family, Bolinget surrendered to authorities and is currently being held at the National Bureau of Investiga- tion (NBI) in Baguio City.

In the face of the worsening tyranny of the Duterte government and aggressive actions towards its people, we urge the Philippine government to comply with its obligations to all human rights and international humanitarian law, treaties, and conventions that the Philippines is a signatory to, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We call on concerned agencies who signed the resolution to drop their support to the resolution and condemn this State policy in- citing extrajudicial killings and mass murder.

ICHRP-Canada stands firm in solidarity with the oppressed and exploited people and communities in the Philippines working for genuine change like the courageous human rights defenders and legitimate people’s organizations.

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