Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has called for a Senate probe into the alarming increase of killings in Negros Oriental province as the government and communist rebels continue to trade accusations over the recent deaths of some twenty people in the province.

In filing Senate Resolution (SR) No. 65, De Lima lamented the inefficiency of state agents to protect innocent victims against killings and abuses and to ensure accountability for human rights violations in the province.

“The State’s intensified effort to quell the rebel threat has resulted to countless innocent victims being caught in the crosshairs of a brutal and bloody campaign and has fomented talks of the imposition of Martial Law in Negros,” she said.

“The spate of killings perpetrated by state agents, rebel groups, or otherwise, tend to prove the inability of the Philippine government to discharge its basic duty to preserve and maintain peace and order, and to hold accountable the perpetrators of crimes and abuses,” she added.

De Lima noted that the number of civilians killed in Negros Oriental increased since the implementation of Memorandum Order (MO) No. 32 on Nov. 22, 2018, which directed the deployment of additional troops to Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, and Bicol Region purportedly to suppress lawless violence. Her Resolution thus calls also for an inquiry into the implementation of MO 32.

The most recent of which were the 20 people killed in the province from July 18 to 27, including, among others, human rights lawyer Anthony Trinidad, who was shot dead by motorcycle-riding assailants last July 23 and driver Reden Eleuterio who was killed by unidentified gunmen last July 25.

“Amidst this spate of killings, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde reasserted that the intensified campaign of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP in Negros Oriental would continue to be implemented,” De Lima recalled.

While the PNP reported that the gunmen involved in several of the attacks identified themselves as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA (CPP-NPA) denied the said allegations and instead blamed the military, police and paramilitary forces for the Negros killings.

Amid the lawlessness across the province, De Lima also urged the government to respect international humanitarian law, saying that, “states have an obligation to teach its rules to their armed forces and the general public” and that “they must prevent violations or punish them if these nevertheless occur.”

Recalling the Geneva Convention, to which Philippines is state-party, De Lima pointed out that is prohibited to make the civilian population or individual civilians the object of state-sponsored attacks.

The lady Senator from Bicol likewise added that it is imperative for the government and law authorities and institutions to develop mechanisms which ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes to let justice and the rule of law reign.

In the 17th Congress, De Lima filed SR No. 1034 seeking a Senate inquiry into the deaths of 14 farmers who were killed in a joint military and police operations in Negros Oriental last March 30.