By DEE AYROSO
MANILA –As government troops are supposedly rounding up its enemies in its more than three-month offensive in Marawi City, stories of the tragic fate of Meranaw civilians are just beginning to come out. They were not simply caught in the crossfire, but were victims of human rights violations by state security forces who suspected them as their enemies.
An accumulated report by Kalinaw Mindanao showed four victims of extrajudicial killings, five tortured, 20 illegally arrested and detained, and dozens of others whose houses were broken into by soldiers or destroyed by airstrikes. Some of those arrested have not been seen by their families, and are considered disappeared.
Bulatlat obtained a copy of the report, which compiled accounts of what residents saw as they were fleeing the besieged city, as well as incidents of civilians arrested for being suspected as members of the extremist group, Dawlah Islamiya, referred to by government as “ISIS-inspired Maute group.”
Progressives have opposed President Duterte’s imposition of martial law in Mindanao, as they cited the grievous human rights record of the military and police, the main oppressive institutions of Martial Law under the 20-year Marcos Dictatorship. Rights abuses continued under succeeding administrations, including under Duterte, and even before he declared martial law.
The cases were gathered in July by the second National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NIHM) which visited evacuation centers in the two Lanao provinces. The NIHM had reported its documentation of 32 cases of human rights violations with a total of 309 victims from Marawi city.
The first NIHM was held from June 13 to 16, and had gathered harrowing accounts of Marawi residents escaping airstrikes and fleeing from cadaver-strewn streets. The second NIHM was held July 26 to 29.
Among those killed was Sohaib Batalo, 20, a Criminology student and part-time employee at the Lanao del Sur provincial capitol. The NIHM documentation said Batalo’s family evacuated from their home in Madaya Lilod village amid the airstrikes on May 26. He got separated from his family, but was seen looking for his father at the office of the Provincial Security Force at 8:30 PM. Neighbors saw him later that evening being accosted by police at the Mapandi bridge, and being turned over to the Special Action Force (SAF).
“Later at the evacuation center, his sister learned from fellow evacuees that his brother was killed by the police and identified as an ISIS member and accused him of theft. His sister also saw a picture of Batalo in handcuffs held by the police,” said the Kalinaw Mindanao report.
Another victim is Ramos Malik, 35, a resident of Cameri in Marinaut village who is mentally disabled. His family decided to evacuate Marawi on May 26, but had lost contact with him. At the evacuation center in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte, they saw a TV news footage showing Ramos, who was wearing black and being apprehended by a soldier at a checkpoint. Another footage showed soldiers approaching Ramos, pointing a gun at him. Ramos was later found dead at the Bangolo Bridge inside the war-zone in the city. His body was later brought to his family.
A number of those arbitrarily arrested have been kept incommunicado, their families at a loss on where to find them.
Two brothers, one of them a minor, went missing after they were taken by soldiers in Pantar, Lanao del Norte.
In the afternoon of May 26, Sakraman Decampong, 18, and his brother Takul, 15, went for the afternoon prayer in the masjid beside their home in Papandayan Caniogan village, Marawi. During their worship, four bombs were consecutively dropped in the vicinity. The imam who led the prayers, Alim Baser, died inside the masjid.
The two brothers were injured from shrapnels, and other residents tried to transport them to Saguiaran for medical treatment, but were accosted by police at a checkpoint. Police took the brothers and instead brought them to Pantar, Lanao del Norte, where they were turned over to the soldiers, supposedly because they were suspected “ISIS.” The two remain missing.
Another disappeared victim is evacuee Arafat Lala who was staying with his family at the Saguiaran Poblacion evacuation center. On July 23, 38-year-old Lala, a Meranaw mechanic from Osmeña village, was summoned by the military to attend a meeting of group leaders of evacuees. Five minutes later, a man asked him outside, supposedly to help repair a motorcycle. A witness then saw Arafat being taken by soldiers to the nearby Saguiaran police station.
When his family came looking for him, soldiers at the police station said that Arafat was arrested and brought to the Crime Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), allegedly because he fixed a motorcycle of an ISIS member. Media reported that the military presented Lala as an ISIS member, who had with him 12 different identification cards.
However, the NIHM said Lala is a team leader of a group of evacuees, and assists in the distribution of relief goods. “For easier distribution, he has with him the IDs of all his members. He also worked as a sweeper under the DOLE Go Negosyo Kapatid for Marawi program,” said the group.
He and his wife Noraida have a two-year-old child, and a total of 13 children from their respective previous marriage.
The case of the disappearance of Saypudin Rascal, 13, was cited in the report by the first NIHM in June. On May 23, Idris Rascal, 55, and his son Jalal, 25, were about to evacuate from their house in Marawi City when a bomb hit the structure, killing the two men inside. Jalal’s son, Saypudin tried to return to the house, but was taken by soldiers. Saypudin remains missing.
Torture, divestment and destruction of properties
The NIHM also documented the case of a 36-year-old man and his two sons, age 18 and 20 (names withheld for security), who were detained and tortured by soldiers for a week. On June 1, the three men were arrested by soldiers at an evacuation center. They were brought to a military headquarters where they were kept in handcuffs, and interrogated while hot wax was poured on their hands – supposedly a paraffin test. They were subjected to such torture for a week, until they were finally released.
Meanwhile, in spite of military reports of massive looting of residences by the extremist group Dawlah, many evacuees reported that soldiers were the ones seen forcing themselves inside houses.
A Meranaw businesswoman from Papandayan Caniogan village said she learned that soldiers forced open their vulcanizing shop and house and took their belongings. The woman and her family left their home on May 26, but was later told by her neighbors that soldiers forcibly entered their house. She also saw a photo of a soldier carrying their generator and tank of LPG, which the soldiers used to cook.
A similar case was experienced by a resident of Emie Punud village, which is far from the battle area. When she returned home to retrieve some of her belongings, she found soldiers occupying her home, which was near the road, and they had turned it into a military checkpoint. The woman was surprised because she knew that she had padlocked her house.
Human rights violations against national minorities
The national minorities alliance Sandugo had denounced Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao and the continued bombardment in Marawi. The group said civilians, specially Moros and indigenous peoples suffer the brunt of the attacks.
“The daily airstrikes in Marawi had led to hundreds of Moros dead. Devoid of CCTV and media attention, aerial bombings, artillery shellings, indiscriminate firing, assassinations, abductions and torture had struck other Moro communities in Lanao del Sur as well as in Lumad communities in Compostela Valley, the Mamanwas in Agusan del Sur, the Blaans in Sarangani Province, also the Tingguians in Abra, the Igorots in the Cordilleras , the Mangyans in Mindoro, the Aetas of Central Luzon, the Dumagats of Rizal,” Sandugo said in a statement.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have announced weeks ago that it is nearing the final battle in Marawi, with the extremist forces reduced to 40 to 60, and their controlled area “getting smaller every day.”
An estimated 400,000 people have been displaced from embattled Marawi City and nearby areas. Government puts the death toll of civilian casualties caught in the crossfire at 46. The number of evacuees who died from various diseases are not included.