A church official called on Monday for an independent investigation into the spate of killings in the central Philippines. Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the auxiliary of Manila, said the surge of violence in Negros Oriental demands such action to bring justice to the victims.

“Such an investigation cannot be simply left to the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines who have been implicated in the killings,” Pabillo said.

Fifteen civilians were killed by alleged vigilantes in the province last month, following the July 18 ambush of four cops by the communist rebels. On March 30, at least 14 suspected rebels were killed in a supposed clash with security forces, police said, but human rights activists said those who died were farmers.

“A bloodbath is now happening in Negros. This cannot go on. The killings must stop,” Pabillo said. Human rights groups have reported at least 87 killings of unarmed civilians in Negros since the government intensified its anti-insurgency campaign in 2017.The prelate is also leading a signature drive to stop the killings on Negros Island “which we will send to all parties and individuals who can act to stop the carnage”.

Joined by Benedictine nun Mary John Mananzan and former senator Rene Saguisag, the campaign urged Filipinos to be steadfast in upholding human rights and dignity. They also warned President Duterte against inciting the state forces to retaliate against alleged rebel atrocities, saying that this could lead “to even more indiscriminate killings and exacerbate the spiral of killings”.

“We likewise call on all Filipinos to help stop the bloodbath in Negros,” they said. “Together, let us achieve peace and justice through dialogue and the highest respect for human life.” CBCPNEWS