By Mark Angelo Mañez

PHOTO: CNN Philippines

The main website of the Philippine government could not be accessed by users for several hours on Wednesday, with a group claiming to have launched a “political cyber-attack” to protest the killings of nine activists and other alleged human rights violations.

The group “Cyber PH for Human Rights” sent an e-mail to the media at 4:40 p.m. that it launched a distributed denial-of-service attack on at 4 p.m. This means it managed to overwhelm the site with traffic so much that it crashed.

Any attempt to access the website now shows either an “Internal Server Error” or “Bad Gateway” page. At one point past 5 p.m., CNN Philippines was able to reach the site which was slow to load, but it became inaccessible soon after.

“As of 7pm today, Gov.PH remains down,” the group said. “For the last three hours, this will have been the first and longest cyberattack on government cyber assets, exposing the weaknesses of the government's IT system.”

CNN Philippines has asked the Presidential Communications Operations Office for comment, but it has not immediately responded.

In its statement, the Cyber PH for Human Rights identified itself as a group of “ordinary Filipinos united to defend human rights in the Philippines through cyberspace.”

“We come before the public today to stand in solidarity against the worsening human rights situation in the country, and to call for justice for the massacre of nine activists, and for countless more unarmed civilians who had lost their lives under this regime,” the group said.

“The cyberattack aims to send a message to President [Rodrigo] Duterte and his government, to stop the killing of unarmed civilians,” it added. The group said it plans to make another round of attacks on other government websites and even the pages of non-state agents who spread “fake news.”

It was apparently referring to the so-called “Bloody Sunday,” which saw members of activist and indigenous groups killed in separate operations in the provinces of Rizal, Batangas, and Laguna. The Philippine National Police said these were part of 24 “search warrant operations” over the weekend, maintaining that all of them were “legitimate.” Malacañang said these will be investigated.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights sounded the alarm over what it called an “apparently arbitrary killing" and expressed concern it could mark an increase in attacks and red-tagging of human rights defenders.

Activist groups slammed the crackdown, calling them a result of Duterte's statements, particularly his recent order to the military "to shoot and kill right away if they (communist rebels) see you holding a gun."

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque defended Duterte's pronouncement, saying it was "legal" amid the ongoing conflict. The Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing New People's Amy have waged a five-decade insurgency and have now been designated as terrorist organizations by the executive Anti-Terrorism Council.