A ranking official of the Armed Forces’ Judge Advocate General’ s Office (Jago) is singing a tune different from that of the AFP spokesperson with regards allegations of human rights violations by the New People’ s Army (NPA). “Mas liberal pa nga ang mga NPA, inaalagaan nila ang kanilang mga bihag” (The NPAs are more liberal, they take care of their hostages), he said.
By Dabet Castañeda
A ranking official of the Armed Forces’ Judge Advocate General’ s Office (Jago) is singing a tune different from that of the AFP spokesperson with regards allegations of human rights violations by the New People’ s Army (NPA).
The official, Lt. Col. Julius Magno, a trial judge advocate, insinuated to Bulatlat.com in an interview over the weekend that the NPA takes care of its prisoners of war (POWs) well. “Mas liberal pa nga ang mga NPA, inaalagaan nila ang kanilang mga bihag”(The NPAs are more liberal, they take care of their hostages), he said.
Magno issued the statement in an interview during the inauguration of the offices of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) June 4 in Quezon City. The JMC is charged with monitoring the implementation of a human rights agreement signed by both parties.
Last week, Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero, AFP spokesperson, said that the NPA has become the leading “human rights violator” adding that atrocities attributed to military troops have declined over the years. From a high of 263 in 2001, the number of cases filed against them went down to 78 in 2002 and 55 last year, he said. This year, only 17 complaints have been received, a newspaper report quoted him as saying.
Human rights training
Lucero traced the decline in the number of human rights abuses filed against the AFP to the latter’s extensive education and training on human rights and international humanitarian law. He also said the armed forces has recently established a Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law desk which is connected with the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations (J7).
The Amnesty International (AI) report cited by Lucero in fingering the NPA as a leading human rights violator appears to show otherwise, however.
The 2003 report by AI, a London-based human rights watch, found the AFP guilty of human rights abuses. AI said in particular the AFP has reportedly killed 200 people and about 400,000 have been displaced after the AFP launched offensives against the Moro rebels. The Arroyo government, it further said, failed to revive peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and following clashes between government troops and MILF forces.
“At least 38 civilians were killed in two bombings in Davao city, eastern Mindanao, in March and April,” AI reported. “In subsequent police sweeps, at least 12 Muslim suspects were reportedly arrested without warrants in Davao and Cotabato and held incommunicado for extended periods. There were fears that some were tortured or ill-treated by the Philippine National Police (PNP) seeking confessions and information.”
Worse than Estrada
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, independent observer of the JMC and secretary general of human rights alliance Karapatan, said that the human rights record of the military under the Arroyo government is far worse than that of ousted president Joseph Estrada.
Enriquez specifically pointed out that in Arroyo’ s three-year term, there have been more than 300 political prisoners nationwide while the number had gone down to 150 before Estrada was ousted in 2001.
Thirteen human rights workers were slain under Arroyo compared to Estrada’s watch where there was no record of such incidence. The slaying of human rights workers, she told Bulatlat.com, were perpetrated by military and police authorities.
Karapatan has documented from Jan. 21, 2001 to June 1, 2004, at least 199 cases of killings affecting 289 individuals, 30 cases of forced disappearances affecting 38 individuals, 160 cases of forced evacuation affecting 15,096 families and 112,664 individuals.
In total, Karapatan has documented 3,150 cases of human rights violations against the military, police and its paramilitary forces affecting 171,369 victims in 73 communities nationwide.
Meanwhile, Magno assured Bulatlat.com that the AFP has put in place a mechanism to ensure that every soldier receives education and training on human rights and international humanitarian law.
He said the human rights education and training are given regularly for six months.
The military lawyer however said the implementation of human rights principles “boils down to the dedication of the troop commander.” Violations committed by any unit of the armed forces are a result of the laxity and incompetence of the commanding officer, he said. In such cases, the troop commander should be relieved from his post, he added.
Echoing Magno’ s statement, Chief Supt. Wilfredo Dulay of the Directorate for Investigation of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said that the police force has also implemented the same human rights education and training program.
Dulay, however, said they have no means of monitoring violations by their forces. It is the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that monitor the human rights abuses by policemen.
Reacting, Enriquez said that the monitoring of the CHR does not reflect the real human rights situation in the country.
In fact, she said, victims and their families have gone tired of filing cases against the military, police or other paramilitary forces because such cases are either dismissed or whitewashed.
Magno welcomed the formation and operationalization of the JMC as this would assure that both parties to the ongoing civil war would be responsible and accountable to any abuses that could be filed against each side.