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Ecumenical church group decries ‘renewed wave’ of attacks against activists

An ecumenical church group in the central Philippines decried what it described as a “renewed wave” of vilification of activists that can be “a prelude” to political killings.

Father Marco Sulayao, chairman of the Promotion of Church People’s Response in Panay, said most activists who were killed in the region were “red-tagged” and vilified first.

The priest said being an activist is “very dangerous,” citing the case of Jory Porquia who was killed on April 21 by still unidentified assailants.

Last week, rights group Karapatan reported the spread of posters with pictures of 32 members of activist and human rights groups in Iloilo City.

The group said it was the same poster seen on Dec. 11, 2018, before Porquia was killed, and again on March 16, 2019.

The posters were also seen days after the killing of Zara Alvarez, a church worker and member of Karapatan on the neighboring island of Negros.

Father Sulayao tagged the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict for instigating the attacks on activists.

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“The [task force] continues its misguided mission of eliminating armed and unarmed dissenters to justify its bloated budget,” said the priest.

He said it is time that the government “end this madness of killing and vilifying legitimate dissenters.”

Father Sulayao said authorities should instead focus its efforts on solving the impact of the economic and health crisis that the country is facing.

In a statement, Karapatan said after the recent spate of killings, “threats to the lives of human rights defenders have become real and imminent.”

Karapatan and the National Union of People’s Lawyers have reported receiving text messages with names of people described as “subjects for liquidation” in Negros.

Karapatan said it considers the human rights defenders named in the text message “under extreme risk.”

“These killings are the handiwork of those who in the past have relentlessly vilified and threatened these individuals conducting human rights work and advocacy in Negros,” the group said.

Karapatan claimed that since July 2016, more than 200 human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and activists have been murdered.

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