“With the appointment of Gen. Año as army chief there is no hope at all that justice will be obtained for human rights crimes during the watch of Aquino.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Families of victims of human rights violations and human rights activists assailed President Aquino’s appointment of Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año as commander of the Philippine Army, saying that the official has yet to account for “the blood on his hands.”
“This is a sad day for human rights victims and defenders. Truly with the appointment of Gen. Año as Army chief there is no hope at all that justice will be obtained for human rights crimes during the watch of Aquino,” Edita Burgos, mother of missing farmer-activist Jonas Burgos, said.
Jonas was disappeared in 2007 in Quezon City. He was dragged out of a restaurant by armed men, among them, then Army Lt. Harry Baliaga, who was under the command of Año. Jonas remains missing to this day.
Burgos said evidences pointed to him and other Army officers, “Año had custody of Jonas.”
On July 15, Año replaced Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri, also known among activists for gross rights violations, whom Aquino appointed as Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Chief of Staff.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said their promotion is a “blatant affirmation of the regime’s policy of war against the discontented Filipino people. These generals are the present-day Palparans and they have blood on their hands.”
“With these murderers and torturers at the helm of the Philippine military, especially on BS Aquino’s last year in office, his regime will leave a bloodied legacy—using a Palparan-like solution of violence against the civilian population tagged as ‘enemies of the State.’ With this, and his haciendero arrogance, Aquino will go down in history as one of the most-hated regimes in the country,” Palabay said.
Despite appeals from the Burgos family and human rights activists, Año was named chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). He was promoted anew as chief of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division.
Army battalions under his command have been implicated in various human rights violations. Among the most recent case was the implication of the 69th Infantry Battalion, which is under the 10th ID, in the Paquibato massacre that killed three indigenous peoples in Davao City.
The heavy militarization in Mindanao, under Año’s command, has also led to widespread displacement, especially, of the indigenous peoples.
In a statement, Palabay likened Año’s human rights record to that of now retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, known as “The Butcher,” who is accused in the disappearance of University of the Philippines’ students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. Palparan had been blamed for numerous cases of extrajudicial killing, disappearances, illegal arrests, torture, and forcible evacuation.
Meanwhile, Iriberri was also implicated in various violations of human rights and international humanitarian law across the country.
In 2013, he led air strikes in various communities in Abra as head of the Philippine Army’s 503rd Infantry Battalion. Two girls were nearly killed in Malibcong town.
Human rights activists and families of the so-called Lacub martyrs also assailed Iriberri when he hailed soldiers and awarded them medals of valor for winning the “battle” against members of the New Peoples’ Army in a “firefight” in Lacub, Abra, in September 2014.
A fact-finding mission, however, revealed that the bodies of the seven slain NPA fighters bore torture marks. Two civilians were also killed in the so-called clash.
“Even civilians were targeted by the Philippine Army. Under (Iriberri’s) leadership, the 503rd brigade and the whole Armed Forces of the Philippines viciously implemented Oplan Bayanihan and unsheathed the sword of terror upon the people of Abra. Members of progressive and cause-oriented groups were harassed. If they were not cowed by the harassment, they were killed. This is human rights for General Irriberi and the whole AFP,” Fr. Demetrio Batay-An, Abra Human Rights Movement chairperson, said.
Año’s promotion as Army chief “will only bring out a more dedicated commitment to the cause of human rights,” Burgos said.
“I fear for defenders, victims and independent-minded human rights workers. With so much power in the hands of a head of an Institution reputed to be a violator of human rights, we can only pray to the Lord Almighty to have mercy,” Burgos said.
Under President Aquino, Karapatan documented 262 extrajudicial killings, 293 victims of frustrated killings and 60,000 civilians displaced due to military operations as of June 30, 2015. The group attributed this to the carrying out of the counterinsurgency plan Oplan Bayanihan.