By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Calling the military offensives in Marawi City a “human rights violation in itself” because of the destruction and displacement of Moro communities, a Moro group said both the Philippine and American governments should be held accountable for rights abuses committed “under the US War on Terror.’
The group Suara Bangsamoro called for an independent investigation on reports of human rights violations committed by military troops amid the fighting with the terror group Dawlah Islamiyah, led by the Maute brothers, whom government refers to as “inspired” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
Some 400,000 people, mostly Meranaws, forcibly evacuated from the besieged Islamic City of Marawi and from nearby areas, when government began the military offensive on May 23 in pursuit of the Dawlah Islamiya. President Duterte promptly declared martial law on the same date, putting the whole Mindanao island under military rule up to the present.
“President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to bomb Moro communities that led to death and displacement of Moro people and destruction of our communities is in itself a violation of our human rights, and to use this as a form of collective punishment against the Moro people whom he accused of harboring terrorists,” said Jerome Succor Aba, national chairperson of Suara Bangsamoro.
Suara Bangsamoro’s statement was in response to United States Defense Secretary James Mattis, who praised the Philippine Army on the Marawi operations, stressing that there was no complaint of human rights violation.
“I think the most important thing is here’s an army that had to go in a fight like that, and they had not one human rights allegation against them with any credibility, not one,” Mattis was quoted in a report by eaglenews.ph, which he said at the sidelines of the ASEAN defense ministerial meeting in Clark, Pampanga.
Once a bustling urban center, Marawi city now lies mostly in ruins after the five-month-long battle, in which government troops carried out airstrikes and artillery bombardment against the Dawlah fighters who reportedly holed up in buildings and masjids.
Two batches of national interfaith humanitarian missions who went to Lanao del Sur in June and July documented cases of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture of Marawi residents who were accosted by soldiers amid the fighting. A number of residents also complained to the mission about soldiers who forced their way inside abandoned homes and took household items and other properties.
Meranaw Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a former member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, also reported several human rights abuses by the military when she spoke during the July 22 special session of the two Houses of Congress which approved the extension of the Mindanao martial law.
Aba said the US should also be held liable, as the Philippine government has complied with the US War on Terror as “the framework for the large-scale attacks against Moro communities.”
“The use of military airstrike is already a form of genocidal attack against the people. The US government and Duterte’s incessant accusation against the Moro people as harboring terrorists gave a go-signal for the military and the police to openly attack Moro civilians and communities,” said Aba.
The US has denied any participation in the combat operations in Marawi, in accordance with PH-US security agreements which only allow joint trainings and technical support. Duterte had apologized to the Marawi residents for ordering the siege, at the same time, he blamed the Meranaws as he questioned how an armed group has stockpiled weapons and ammunitions in the city, as evident in the prolonged firefight.
Aba, however said, “There should be a deep investigation as to the impact of US military intervention in the Philippines and their presence and military operations in Moro areas including inside Camp Ranao in Marawi City.”
“We believe that the deployment of US soldiers in Moro areas has exacerbated terrorism and terrorist networks in Mindanao. We must take into account the reports of US government as behind the creation of terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda and ISIS,” he said.
Suara Bangsamoro and the group of Marawi evacuees, Tindeg Ranao, has called for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao, and for holding the military accountable for human rights violations.
Duterte had declared Marawi “liberated” on Oct. 17, following the killing of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Dawlah Islamiya leader Omar Maute in a military assault on Oct. 16. He, however, said martial law in Mindanao will remain.
The military reports the death toll as the following: 847 Dawlah Islamiya members, 163 government troops, and 47 civilians.
Meanwhile, the League of Filipino Students-Northern Mindanao also condemned the US official’s statement as “pure, grave lie.”
“Clearly, he was trying to paint a glossy picture over its atrocious reality,” said Kristine Cabardo, LFS-NMR chairperson.
The youth group also warned of the impending entry of big business and possible encroachment on Moro lands in the rehabilitation of Marawi.
“They have bombed the only Islamic City in the Philippines and slaughtered our people. All for the entry of big corporations and foreign companies eyeing to expand their conglomerates of business and paving the way for a military reservation. The only Islamic City left in the Philippines is being stripped off the hands of its rightful owners – the Meranaos and the people of Mindanao,” Cabardo said.