MANILA: Two campaigners investigating alleged human rights abuses have been shot dead in the Philippines, authorities said Wednesday, deepening concerns that a "climate of impunity" is threatening rights activists.
The pair, who were looking into accusations of land-grabbing by a mayor on the central island of Negros, were riding a motorcycle when gunmen on two other motorcycles overtook them and opened fire on Tuesday, police said.
Elisa Badayos, an officer for national rights organisation Karapatan, and Eleuterio Moises, a member of a local peasant group, were both killed and another member of their investigating team was wounded, they added.
Philippines Duterte says only answers to his people on drugs war, human rights
The group was examining cases of peasants apparently being forced off their farms, said Karapatan's media officer Geri Cerillo.
"Private goons (armed men) were harassing the residents. There were land-grabbing attempts of the politicians there," she told AFP.
Police and the the government's independent Commission on Human Rights said they would open a probe into the killings.
Human rights groups say the Philippines has long suffered from a culture where powerful figures feel they can get away with murder, including that of activists and journalists.
Watchdogs say the situation has worsened under Duterte, a former city mayor elected last year who has repeatedly criticised human rights campaigners as he wages a drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.
Philippines' Duterte says he once stabbed a person to death
Duterte last year threatened to kill rights activists if they hindered his centrepiece anti-drug campaign.
Karapatan said in a statement that armed men working for a local mayor had blocked the mission, harassed and shadowed the investigating team even before the attack.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan's secretary general, said the incident worsened the "climate of impunity" in the Philippines.
"Armed (men) of landlords and politicians are emboldened to commit human rights violations, especially with Duterte's avowals to protect and coddle human rights violators among his police and military," Palabay told AFP.