The World Council of Churches has condemned the killings of 14 farmers in The Philippines earlier this month and renewed calls for the country's government to end the "culture of impunity".

The farmers were killed by police in three separate incidents on Negros Island in the country's central region on 30th March in Canlaon City as well as the towns of Manjuyod and Santa Catalina. Two of the victims were reportedly local administration officials and one was a lay leader of a Catholic mission station.  

Police have reportedly said officers opened fire after the men shot at officers who had arrived with search warrants for illegal firearms. But rights groups have reportedly said the men were simply farmers "asserting their rights to land".

In a statement, the WCC noted that relatives, civil society organisations and the church "strongly refute the false allegations that the farmers were members or supporters of the [communist] New People’s Army", and quoted Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, saying that the killings "follow a deeply troubling pattern of labelling poor and marginalised farmers who stand up for their legitimate land rights as extremists, and killing them".

The statement also noted the "vilification" and "harassment" of grass roots religious organisations like the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines - Northern Mindanao Sub-Region - a group established in 1969 as a church response to the address issues of peace, education and governance in remote and inaccessible areas, claiming they support extremist groups as part of "the wider oppression of organisations and concerned individuals who stand up for human rights".

It also quoted Athena Peralta, WCC programme executive for economic and ecological justice, saying that "land grabbing by major corporations, for the extractive industry and agricultural companies with the support of the government and marginalisation and impoverishment of rural communities is the root of the troubles".

The WCC said churches worldwide "are in solidarity with the families and communities of the victims".

"[The] WCC renews the call issued by its Central Committee in June, 2018, for the Government of the Philippines to end the culture of impunity and to ensure full investigation and accountability for all such killings," said a statement. "We pray for the comfort and healing of the bereaved, and that faith communities and the wider society will rally and support the affected families and communities."

Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, said the organisation joined with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines in condemning the killings and calling for open investigations.

"People thirst and hunger for peace and justice," he said in a statement. "May we, together, as churches, communities, organisations and governments respect life, freedom, and the dignity of each person...May justice and peace become a reality in the Philippines."