Murder case recommended for killing of activist during March 7 police-military raids in South Luzon

Published December 1, 2021, 2:53 PM

by Jeffrey Damicog

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra (2)

A murder case has been recommended against law enforcers for the death of activist Emmanuel Asuncion, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Cavite, during last March 7 operations in Southern Luzon against suspected members of communist rebels.

The operations conducted by the military and the police resulted in the deaths of nine activists and injuries to several persons.

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra on Wednesday, Dec. 1, said the recommendation to file a murder case was made by the special investigating tem (SIT) of the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right of Life, Liberty and Security of Persons.

Asuncion was killed during a raid conducted at the office of the Workers Assistance Center (WAC) in Dasmarinas, Cavite.

Guevarra had ordered the investigation of the killings by the inter-agency committee.

Among those being investigated were the killings of couple Chair and Ariel Evangelista of the Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pagwawasak ng Kalikasan at Kalupaan (UMALPAS KA).

“The NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) is winding up its interviews of witnesses, and the SIT report will be out in about two weeks,” Guevarra said.

But, he said, the inter-agency committee has not been probing the deaths of cousins Puroy and Randy dela Cruz, both were indigenous people’s rights advocates and also killed last March 7.

“The deaths of Puroy dela Cruz and Randy dela Cruz were not included in the probe as no cause-oriented connection was established,” Guevarra explained.

Other investigations being conducted by the inter-agency’s SIT “are ongoing,” he added.

The joint police-military operations were conducted to ferret out suspected communist rebels in Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Batangas provinces.

In the service of the search warrants, however, nine persons died and several others were injured. The incident was then dubbed as “Bloody Sunday” by several human rights groups.

The incident was one of those bloody encounters that prompted the Supreme Court (SC) to hasten the issuance of the rules on the mandated use of body-worn cameras or alternative video and audio recording devices by law enforcers in the service of arrest or search warrants.

Under the rules, pieces of evidence obtained by law enforcers who did not use body-worn cameras or alternative devices are “inadmissible for the prosecution of the offense for which the search warrant was applied.”

The rules also provide that persons who are subjects of search or arrest warrants should be informed that the enforcement of the warrants are being recorded from the start of the operation until terminated.

In case death results in the implementation of the search warrant, “an incident report detailing the implementation of the search, the reasons why such death occurred, the result of related inquest proceedings, if any— including possibly those against the officer or officers causing the death together with other relevant documents — shall likewise be submitted” to the court which issued the warrant.

Trial courts can only issue arrest or search warrants within their territorial jurisdiction. The rules had revoked authority to executive judges of some trial courts, like those in Manila and Quezon City, to issue warrants that can be served anywhere in the country.

The inter-agency committee on EJKs, known as AO35 committee, is composed of the Department of Justice, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense (DND), Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).