By Sara Gómez Armas
Manila, Aug 19 (efe-epa).- Dozens of Philippine left-wing activists and militants figure on a controversial “red list” prepared by the government that has been linked to multiple assassinations, with two more rights defenders recently becoming the latest victims of what the critics have dubbed “state terrorism.
Zara Alvarez and Randall Echanis, known for their long history of denouncing human rights abuse and advocating peace with the left-wing insurgents of the New People’s Army, were both assassinated earlier this month.
Although the two had never picked up arms for the NPA, President Rodrigo Dutere’s government had attacked them for being “reds”, communists and rebels, an identity that has become synonymous with terrorism in today’s Philippines, and paid for it with their blood.
“Both Zara and Randy were listed as terrorists in a case filed in 2018 by the Department of Justice,” Cristina Palabay, the secretary-general of Karapatan, a network of human rights groups that the two deceased activists were a part of, told EFE on Wednesday.
Alvarez, 39, was shot dead on the night of Aug. 17 by masked assailants in Bacolod on the Negros Island, one of the poorest regions in the country that has repeatedly witnessed killings of labor and peasant leaders.
The assassination came seven days after Echanis, 72, a well-known advocate of land reforms and founder and president of left-wing party Anakpawis, was found dead at his house in northern Manila. Echanis had also served as an adviser in peace negotiations with the NPA.
“They were exposed, being in that list put a target in their backs,” said Palabay, who on Wednesday took part in a protest joined by around 500 people to demand justice over the “state crimes” in a memorial park in Manila that pays tribute to victims of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
The controversial red list was prepared by the justice department in 2018 after an attempt to hold peace negotiations between the left-wing rebels and the Duterte administration failed.
The list includes the names of around 600 people who have been listed as terrorists, although the case is still pending in courts.
According to Karapatan, at least 80 names on the list are human rights defenders with no involvement in any insurgency or rebellion, let alone a terrorist group.
Randy Malayao, another activist named on the list, was shot dead in January 2019.
Many commentators have compared the “red list” with a “black list” of officials, mayors and lawmakers accused, often without any evidence, of being linked to drug-trafficking.
That list, prepared in the backdrop of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, has also resulted in many of the marked persons being killed in recent years.
However, the persecution of political activists is not a new phenomenon in the Philippines, which has already witnessed stigmatization of the left-wing during the “dark years” of dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ regime (1971-1982).
The period saw the imposition martial law and 3,240 political assassinations, 70,000 dissidents being jailed and 34,000 tortured.
“This is not new, since many administrations in the past used state power to quell legitimate dissent. There is a communist insurgency in our country but now, to justify the killings, they are simply associating legitimate and legal organizations and individual activists with the communist insurgency,” Ferdinand Gaite, a lawmaker fro the moderate left-wing party Bayan Muna, told EFE at the protest site in the capital.
Gaite insisted that his party – which has also been branded as “reds” by the government – doesn’t call for “rebellion or revolution” but “advocates for the people to have the right to fight all forms of fascism, all forms of terrorism.”
“(The deaths of Alvarez and Echanis) are a big loss for the people’s movement. Both of them had been contributing on how to address the concerns of farmers, peasants, workers, ordinary people. They had been advocating for social justice and for a change,” the lawmaker said.
After popular outrage over the two assassinations, with many quarters blaming the government, the Duterte administration has tried to distance itself from the incidents, even though the president has repeatedly insulted and threatened left-wing leaders and activists.