One day, nine lives cut short. Families of activists killed by security forces in the Philippines call for justice.
JAMELA ALINDOGAN: It was the worst day for activists in the Philippines in recent years. On March 7, a series of operations conducted by state forces resulted in the deaths of nine activists in several parts of the southern Luzon region. Rosalinda Salundaga says she was asleep with her husband, Melvin Dasigao and their children when police forced their way into their home. Melvin's hands, she says, was behind his head. It was an act of surrender, she says, but Melvin was still shot several times.
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INTERPRETER: They say we have weapons. We don't even have money for food. We are dependent on aid after our house was devastated by a typhoon last December. They stripped us of our humanity and our dignity. Have you no heart, no conscience? You kill us like animals because we join your [INAUDIBLE] Mark Lee Bacasno, who's a friend and colleague of Melvin, was also killed. He lived across the street.
JAMELA ALINDOGAN: People here tell us it was around 4:30 in the morning when they heard a group of armed men force their way inside Mark Lee's house. They say they heard his family pushed out of the house before Mark Lee was shot several times right here. Their home is abandoned now.
And in another part of Rizal Province, Puroy and Pulong Dela Cruz were cousins who advocated for the rights of Indigenous peoples. They were killed the same way. Among those killed, too, were the couple, Chai Lemita Evangelista and Ariel Evangelista, from Batangas Province. Both were killed by police just meters away from their son.
And on Sunday, an entire community grieved the death of Manny Asuncion, who was a known labor rights organizer for many years. The police say all of the victims were killed because they resisted arrest and that led to what they call an armed encounter. But rights groups here say this narrative has long been used by police since its so-called drug war began in 2016. The government has ordered an investigation into the killings.
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INTERPRETER: The order of the president was correct-- kill, kill, kill. If your enemy has a gun, must you wait to be shot and killed? It is not a violation under international humanitarian law if a soldier fires at an armed communist. But is there a distinction between activists and rebels? Of course, there is.
JAMELA ALINDOGAN: Human rights activists say those who died had one thing in common. They were Freedom Fighters who were outspoken critics of the government. Jamela Alindogan, Al Jazeera, Manila.