A human rights group in the Philippines has called for an independent investigation into the killing of a former Catholic priest and an elderly rebel peace consultant in the central part of the country last week.
Former priest Rustico Tan was killed in the city of Cebu while peace consultant Reynaldo Bocala and his aide, Well Arguelles Epago, were killed in Iloilo province.
Tan, 80, sustained gunshot wounds to the face and body. The former priest was sleeping inside his house on Camotes Island when he was shot.
Tan left the priesthood to join the communist-led New People’s Army in the 1970s. He was a peace consultant in the 1980s until his retirement due to old age several years ago.
In 2017, he was arrested and detained in the province of Bohol over a charge of murder but was released in 2019 after the case filed against him was dismissed.
He was also charged with similar cases in Bacolod City in 2019 but was released from prison in March 2020 on recognizance.
Meanwhile, Bocala, 75, and Epago, 60, were killed in what police claimed was a shootout while serving four warrants of arrest in Pavia town in Iloilo province.
Cristina Palabay of human rights group Karapatan said an investigation should be done “in the context of previous incidents of killings and attacks against other peace activists.”
Bocala was supposed to be immune from arrest under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees between the rebels and the government.
He was the husband of peace consultant Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala, who was among the 29 people designated as “terrorists” in a list released by the Anti-Terrorism Council on May 13.
Palabay said the terror-tagging of peace consultants has become a “de facto death warrant.”
She cited the cases of other peace consultants who have been killed after the government canceled the formal peace talks in 2017.
Rebel peace consultants Randy Malayao and Randhall Echanis were killed in January 2019 and August 2020, respectively.
Spouses Antonio Cabanatan and Florenda Yap, both elderly and retired peace consultants were strangled to death in December 2020.
In March 2020, peace consultant Julius Giron, doctor Maria Lourdes Tangco, and aide Arvie Reyes were killed in a police raid in Baguio City.
In November last year, spouses Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio, both elderly and retired consultants, were killed in an alleged shoot-out in Angono, Rizal province.
Alvin Luque, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front and his companion, Rodel Macana, were also killed in Surigao del Sur in December 2020.
Palabay urged the Commission on Human Rights “to provide the necessary assistance to the families” of the slain peace consultants.
She appealed to authorities “to put a stop to the killings” and to abide by the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law between the rebels and the government.