The two children were playing inside their house when an M203 grenade hit their house killing Rhodelyn instantly.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Capiz — Human rights groups in Panay have decried the March 11, 2012 killing of a seven year old girl in Baranggay Tacayan, Tapaz, Capiz.
Rodelyn Aguirre was killed while her five-year old sister Rhoda was severely wounded in an explosion inside their house. They are the children of two farmers Divina and Roberto in the same baranggay.
According to reports, an explosive went off inside the two children’s house as they were playing. The explosive has since been traced to elements of the 61st Infantry Battalion’s Charlie Company encamped at a distance of more or less 200 meters from the Aguirre home. The device was said to have been a grenade from an M203 launcher.
The following day, Capt. Java, spokesperson of the 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army based in Camp Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz, issued a statement to the media. He said that the explosive was actually an improvised explosive device (IED) hurriedly assembled by members of the New People’s Army (NPA). After assembling the IED, Java said, the NPAs left but were wounded in the explosion.
The results of a fact-finding mission of the Iloilo Alliance Karapatan and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Panay, however, revealed that the residents in the community were incredulous over the assertions of the military. They said it was highly unlikely that the NPA would have dared to assemble an IED in broad daylight and when they were less than five minutes away from a platoon-sized detachment of the military. They also questioned how the military did not know that elements of the NPA had arrived very close their camp and how the supposed NPAs escaped with minor injuries while the two children were severely wounded and one was even killed.
The barangay is situated in a remote area. There are no immediate means of transportation and it takes residents an hour and a half to get to the main road.
It was also discovered that a month before, another Tumanduk civilian Chario Eulalio was killed and her husband Jason was killed in Brgy. Rizal Sur, Tapaz, Capiz.
Reylan Vergara of Iloilo Alliance Karapatan and Lean Porquia of Bayan Panay told the media that fragments of an M203 shell were seen inside Aguirre’s house. They quoted the father Robert as saying that his two children were playing inside their house when the M203 grenade hit their house killing Rhodelyn instantly.
“We believe that soldiers were cleaning their high powered firearms when it accidentally went off and hit the Aguirre house,” they said.
Robert also told members of the fact-finding mission that a day before the incident, army soldiers accosted them as he was tending to his carabao on top of the hill near the military detachment. He said the military had previously accused him of being a member of the NPA.
The grieving father appealed to local authorities to hasten their investigations into the incident and give his children justice.
Effects of Oplan Bayanihan
It was also discovered that a month before, another civilian Chario Eulalio and her husband Jason were killed in Brgy. Rizal Sur, Tapaz, Capiz. Two were members of the group Tumanduk or the Tumanduk nga mga Mangunguma nga Nagapangapin sa Duta kag Kabuhi), a people’s organization against militarization in the communities of indigenous peoples and farmers. The barangay chief of Tacayan, Celdic Diaz, for his part, said that no incident of an encounter between soldiers and NPA members have been recorded in recent weeks.
Human rights groups in the island said the killing of the civilians is a direct effect of the implementation of the Aquino government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. They also said the 61st IB already has a record of human rights violations against the Tumanduk residents who have previously protested against the Peace and Development Teams or PDT in Panay. The residents have also previously called for the removal of the military detachments in their community in a blood compact ceremony in October 2011.
Last October, residents of various barangays in Tapaz demanded the removal of the army detachment in their villages. The residents had previously circulated a petition against the soldiers’ encampments from June to July and sent the gathered signatures to the Tapaz local government offices of the mayor and provincial governor.
Abducted civilians in Samar
In a separate but related development, human rights groups in Samar are also tagging the AFP in the abduction of a barangay official and his son. The official was also said to have been tortured in front of his daughter.
In a statement released by Katungod-Sinirangang Bisayas (SB) Karapatan in Samar, it was revealed that around midnight last March 4, 2012, a group of soldiers from 87th IBPA reportedly abducted Barangay Kagawad Artemio Labong of Brgy. Pagsang-an, Paranas, Samar and his son Ruel, 21 years old. The group also said that before he was taken, Labong was interrogated and tortured in front of his 12-year-old daughter. That was the last time that Artemio and Ruel was seen.
“The family members of Artemio and Ruel saw that those who have taken them were members of the Philippine Army. They were in full battle gear and in uniform. We condemn this act of abduction by the members of the 87th Infantry Battalion and demand the immediate release of the two victims,” the human rights group said.
The Regional Alliance also apprehensive that the two abducted victims will be eventually surfaced and presented to the media as members of the NPA caught in an alleged raid of an NPA camp at the boundary of Pagsang-an and Anagasi in Paranas Samar last March 5, 2012.
“This practice of implicating innocent civilians has been a long practice of the 8th IBPA,” the group said.
The group appealed to the Commission on Human Rights, the Local Government of Paranas, the Provincial Government of Samar to immediately look after the welfare of the people and to take decisive steps for the resurfacing of father and son.