THE circumstances of Nene Badayos death, coordinator of Karapatan Central Visayas, is now revealed. She was part of a 30-member fact finding mission to investigate human rights violations in Bayawan City, Negros Oriental when motorcycle riding men shot at them killing her and farmer Elioterio Morales last November 28, 2017 at 2:45 pm while they were on the highway. A third casualty, CJ Matarlo, was critically injured. Months prior, a spate of extrajudicial killings targeting Leftist activists in the province of Negros Oriental have been documented particularly in Guihulngan.

In Mindanao, newly-formed human rights online portal, the Mindanao Observatory of Human Rights, has recorded a spate of similar attacks against human rights defenders and leaders of indigenous and peasant organizations involved in human rights work. UCCP Pastor and local leader of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Perfecto Hoyle, was shot gunned down outside his home in Barangay Canaway, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte last November 17, 2017. Staff member of an EU-funded human rights project implemented by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines has also reported harassment and intimidation from those who identified themselves as state security agents. Banwaon leader partnering with the same EU-funded human rights project is now in jail for trumped-up charges together with five other members of their indigenous organization, Tagdumahan.

Over at Compostela Valley, leaders of the local peasant organization are being targeted, the latest being Rodrigo Timoteo of Barangay Mambusao, Compostela who was shot dead last November 29, 2017. He is only the latest among those executed in the same manner among peasant leaders in Compostela Valley and elsewhere.

The blood trail now extends from Mindanao to the Visayas with reports of similar atrocities in the North reportedly targeting and vilifying women activists. All of these indicate not just the shrinking democratic space in the country but a state of de facto martial rule where activists who fight for peasant and indigenous peoples’ rights are felled usually by hooded assassins, incarcerated under trumped-up charges, or threatened of bodily harm including that of their loved ones.

These troubling events occur in the context of the collapse of the peace talks of the government with the CPP-NPA-NDF and President Duterte unleashing the dogs of war against what he calls as legal fronts of the armed communist group. In an unprecedented verbal attack from the irrepressible president, he threatened to arrest members of activist organizations in a public forum. It was tantamount to a verbal order that we can only see exacerbating the spike in state-sanctioned murders and other human rights violations.

Under present Philippine laws, it is not a crime to wield any type of political belief, even maligned and misunderstood convictions such as communism are protected by the Constitution. It is under this democratic principle that progressive groups should be left alone and even defended by State forces.

But Duterte’s recent pronouncements counters this democratic principle by verbally removing the distinction between armed belligerent groups and those they perceive to be sympathetic members of organizations usually at the forefront of human rights work. His statements actually put in harm’s way thousands of freedom-loving activists that he has now labeled effectively as dissidents thereby made fair game to death squads all over. Paramilitary groups and military assassins such as the ones suspected to have killed Nene Badayos in Negros Oriental and Pastor Hoyle in Agusan del Norte are now given the license by no less than Duterte to continue with their killing spree.

This development finally exposes as a sham the democracy that Duterte and his military men are supposedly protecting and upholding. The fragile elite-led Philippine State wlll always find recourse and support from its’ repressive powers despite pretensions of being a strong modern democracy. The continuous deaths of activists and peasant as well as indigenous leaders struggling for social and economic rights in the hands of previous administrations and now in what is turning out to be the brutal dictatorial regime of Duterte are all incontrovertible evidences of this two-faced nature of the kind of democracy that is actually in practice.

In a nation that remains embroiled in a civil war that was started more than a hundred years ago by Andres Bonifacio at the cusp of the Filipino nation’s birth and continues to this day in our violent narrative of nation-building, history had always left an option for those fighting for the democratic rights of the most oppressed sectors but given little choice. Instead of being gunned down by cowardly assassins acting at the behest of their elite principals, many have opted to disappear to the hills, where at least, amongst their kind, they get to pull the trigger first.