Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said there exists sufficient basis for the AO 35 Task Force on EJKs to probe the deaths of the victims because they belonged to cause-oriented groups advocating legitimate grievances.
“The DOJ will endorse the investigation to the AO 35 committee, as there is sufficient evidence that the victims were members of the cause-oriented groups carrying out legitimate dissent,” Guevarra said, in a text message to reporters.
AO No. 35 created the inter-agency task force to investigate cases involving extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations to the rights to life, liberty and security of persons.
The Philippine National Police insisted that the operations against suspected communist rebels in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Rizal were legitimate and covered by search warrants. The police also said those who died fought back against authorities.
But the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier said it was “appalled” by the “apparently simultaneous arbitrary killings” of activists.
Guevarra said he also plans to meet with law enforcement agencies “to discuss ways and means of avoiding the use of unnecessary force in the conduct of legitimate operations.”
Malacañang on Thursday vowed to look into allegations that Army officers were blocking the release of the remains of the slain activists to their relatives.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement after rights group Karapatan said at least 20 soldiers were “physically preventing” the relatives from claiming the victims’ bodies.
Roque said he would call Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana to verify if the allegations are true.
Roque also reassured the European Union Delegation to the Philippines that the government is investigating the killing of the nine activists.
“I ask the European Union, please give the Philippines a chance to discharge its obligation to investigate, punish, and prosecute those who may have breached our domestic laws. We are undertaking and discharging the state obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish,” he said.
Last March 7, nine individuals were killed in simultaneous police operations in Calabarzon. Six died in Rizal, two in Batangas, and one in Cavite, according to police reports.
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