In rural areas, land reform advocates have become targets of deadly state operations ostensibly targeting communist rebels. These have become more frequent since COVID-19 lockdowns began, rights groups say. In the sugar production hub of Negros in the central Philippines, the National Federation of Sugar Workers – a group with a long history of fighting for land rights – has been targeted in multiple deadly operations. Antonio Arellano, one of the federation’s chairmen, was killed by four unidentified assailants in February. He was previously accused of involvement with the New People’s Army.
“Even lockdowns did not stop killings and militarisation in the countryside,” said John Milton Lozande, secretary-general of NFSW. “The state forces seem to perceive all organisations as communist-influenced.”