National Police chief Director General Oscar D. Albayalde relieved on Tuesday four top police officials in Negros Oriental over the deaths of 14 farmers in military-backed operations in the province over the weekend.
Albayalde made the move to pave the way for a “thorough investigation” to be conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Internal Affairs Service surrounding the law enforcement operations that resulted in the killing of the farmers, whom the government claimed were supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Relieved were Police Col. Raul Tacaca, director of the Negros Oriental Provincial Police Office; Police Lt. Col. Patricio Degay, chief of the Canlaon City Police Station; Police Lt. Kevin Roy Mamaradlo, chief of Manjuyod Police Station; and Police Capt. Michael Rubia, chief of the Santa Catalina Police Station.
The PNP claimed that the farmers were killed after they allegedly shot it out with policemen, who were serving warrants against them during simultaneous law enforcement operations on the wee hours of Saturday in Canlaon City, Manjuyod and Santa Catalina.
Twelve other farmers were also arrested during the operations backed by soldiers wherein the operating teams claimed they have also recovered several firearms.
The death of the farmers was condemned by the church and rights groups—and even by local officials—including Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, who said that while he has no problem with the service of legitimate warrants, he finds the high number of deaths incomprehensible.
The families of the victims belied claims that their slain family members were supporters of the rebels, as they raised suspicions that the operating teams shot them in cold blood. Some of them even claimed that they were led out of their houses, leaving the subjects of the warrants inside their house before hearing gunshots.
The operations were conducted in the early morning of Saturday while family members were asleep.
Church officials also raised doubts whether the farmers are really communist supporters, saying some those who were killed were lay members and members of church-based organizations working with the poor in the province.
The police leadership maintained the law enforcement operations were legal since it involved policemen serving court-issued warrants.
The police officials maintained that the operating teams found no recourse but to fight back after they were fired upon by the subjects in their operations.