Supporters shout slogans as they hold paper crosses bearing names of killed people from Negros Oriental province during a rally in metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Monday, April 8, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Aaron Favila
Killings in the Philippines’ Negros Oriental province surged over the weekend, with the 14th fatal shooting on Negros island in a week. Media reports said gunmen shot dead Anaciancino Rosalita in a public market in Canlaon City. Local activists contend that his death is just the latest murder in the government’s ostensible campaign to suppress “lawless violence.”

The island of Negros has a long history of violence stemming from festering issues of land rights, poverty, and injustice. Peasant and farmer groups have campaigned for land reform over the island’s vast sugar plantations amidst fighting between communist insurgents and government forces. Both sides have been implicated in countless human rights abuses.

The attacks increased dramatically after the New People’s Army (NPA) killed four police officers on July 18 in Ayungon town. The police allege the officers had been tortured and then executed. The NPA denied this, although they confirmed killing the officers in an ambush.

On July 22, President Rodrigo Duterte denounced the killings and offered a reward for the capture of those responsible. Since then, there have been multiple daily killings in the province.  On July 25 alone, seven people were killed in separate summary killings in different parts of the province. On July 23, unidentified gunmen killed Anthony Trinidad, a human rights lawyer, in Guihulngan City.

The spiraling violence has prompted the local Catholic diocese and other religious denominations to take action while others call for investigations. Human rights defenders and activist groups have blamed the government for the killings, citing its six-month-long counter-insurgency operation against the NPA, called Operation Sauron. They have also accused the government of “red-baiting” activists and farmers groups as supporters of the NPA, putting them at risk of attack.

Responsibility for the killings remains unclear. But both the government and the NPA should take all necessary measures to end unlawful attacks, either by their forces or armed elements linked to them. Killing civilians and captured combatants are war crimes.