Families of five farmworkers killed by combined elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police on 17 December 2020 in Baras town in Rizal province, are crying foul over accusations by Duterte government officials that their slain loved ones were members of a ‘death squad’ of the New People’s Army.

Jhonatan Alberga, Niño Alberga, Wesley Obmerga, Vilma Salabao and Carlito Zonio were killed in the early morning of 17 December in the upland village of San Juan, less than 50 km. east of the capital Manila. Aside from multiple gunshot wounds, some of the victims bore signs of torture and mutilation. The Alberga siblings’ scrota were burnt, teeth were removed and their hands pounded.

According to families, community residents and human rights groups, Zonio was the head of security and caretaker of the fruit farm. The Alberga siblings were the farm’s security guards while Obmerga and Salabao were farmworkers.

Duterte government officials claim that troopers of the AFP 2nd Infantry Division and PNP Regional Office 4A were serving an ‘arrest warrant’ at 2:30 am when the victims fired back at them. Interior and Local Government Secretary Gen. Eduardo Año bolstered the claim, adding that the victims were part of an NPA ‘death squad’.

Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of human rights alliance Karapatan, contradicted these claims. She said, “The police and military mercilessly killed five farmworkers and now Año is concocting outrageous lies to justify what is clearly a brutal massacre.”

Ms. Palabay added that accounts from the community residents and signs of mutilation on the victims “clearly disprove Año’s wild and delusional assertions”.

Residents reported hearing cries for help from the victims, at the time that security officials claim they were engaged in a shootout.

Macario Liwanag, Spokesperson of the NPA Narciso Antazo Aramil Command of Rizal province, confirmed that the victims were farmworkers and not NPA members. He vehemently condemned the killings saying, “The hands of the AFP and PNP are dripping with blood… The people of Rizal province are enraged by this massacre!”

He added that Gen. Año and Duterte’s fascist troops continue to desecrate the memory of the massacre victims by spinning lies about them. “They are desperately attempting to divert the people’s attention from their terrorist massacre… the five murder victims were clearly unarmed civilians.”