Philippine Catholics lament police killings of indigenous people during arrest

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Catholic and human rights groups have condemned the killing of nine indigenous group leaders, who were shot as authorities arrested protesters late last month.

On Dec. 30, government authorities attempted to arrest 28 people from the Tumandok indigenous group, an alliance of 17 indigenous communities in Tapaz and Jamindan.

According to authorities, the indigenous leaders, who were accused of being communist rebels, had opened fire on the police after search warrants were issued.

However, the archdiocese of Capiz expressed doubt that the indigineous leaders had fired first and the archdiocese's Social Action Center demanded a full investigation.

"Show us genuine results founded on truth and justice," the diocese said in a Jan. 3 statement, UCA News reported.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) launched an investigation on Tuesday. CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana said it is essential that authorities take responsibility for these human rights violations.

"To this end, the Commission, through CHR Region VI, is already moving to gather documents and affidavits to resolve if human rights violations were committed and ultimately call for accountability for all those found to have caused such an affront to human rights and dignity," she said, according to The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos also condemned the violence in a statement, UCA News reported.

"Do we have to kill our perceived enemies, especially the unarmed? Is this the way we celebrate Christmas as a Christian country and welcome the New Year? Can we consider this a great accomplishment that nine tribal leaders were killed?" he asked.

Bishop Alminaza said the government should focus on protecting the indigenous people, who are defenseless and need resources, such as education.

"Instead of killing them," he said, "arm them with an education so that they can grasp issues better."

Alminaza said he has witnessed extrajudicial killings and blackmail, with many members of the diocese having also been falsely accused of participating in the New People's Army - the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Those who have been charged with this crime have faced the death penalty in the past.

"How long will this spiral of violence continue? Have we run out of peaceful means? Do we really, seriously believe this is an effective and lasting way to resolve our social ills?" he asked.

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