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AFP using paramilitary groups, says probe team

The Armed Forces of the Philippines must be held accountable for the creation, arming and continued use of paramilitary groups in military operations in Mindanao, according to an international  fact-finding mission. 

“There is adequate basis to compel the AFP to account for the deployment of its troops and conduct of its operations in Surigao del Sur to ascertain its role in incidents leading to the   September 1   massacre of Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo and the present crisis of forcible evacuation in the lumad communities,”   the International Fact-Finding Mission said.   

Meanwhile, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle urged the military and the communist rebels to leave the indigenous peoples alone and make their  community a “peaceful zone.”

In a statement he issued  after visiting the lumad  members at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila, Tagle urged the Aquino administration to provide water, medicine, compassion and understanding to the displaced lumad who  have taken shelter in evacuation centers in Mindanao.

A copy of the full report of the International Fact Finding Mission, an independent probe commissioned through  “ecumenical efforts” by church-led groups, was obtained by The Standard  through Bishop Rhee Timbang of the Aglipay Diocese of Tandag. The report was  released Tuesday.   

The IFFM report scored the military’s continuing incursions to areas formerly occupied by lumad  who fled to evacuation centers, adding that human rights violations continue to plague indigenous peoples  despite earlier calls by residents to leave their communities amid  attacks of paramilitary groups in the area.   

“According to police and military statements, PNP and the Alpha Coy of the 75th IB have been in Han-ayan and surrounding communities since September 2, 2015 to secure and protect the property of the evacuees who left their communities. Despite their presence however, the destruction, burning, divestment and defacement of property still occurred, proof of their failure to do their task in safeguarding the communities,” the report read.

“Despite   these, there is continuing presence of the regular troops deployed in the communities that are currently forcibly evacuated. This situation persist despite the repeated calls to pull out troops from areas that have been affected by forcible evacuation because of heavy troops deployment in communities.”

While agencies such as  the PNP, SOCO, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Joint NBI-National Prosecutorial Service(NPS) and the Senate have all conducted investigations to seek justice against perpetrators of the September 1   Lianga killings and related cases, the IFFM report noted that “no result has been released to date by any of these agencies to resolve the major issue of identifying and arresting the perpetrators.”

The report also confirmed the existence of alleged “historical and present connection between the AFP and armed paramilitary groups of Marcos Bocales-Calpet Egua-Marcial Belandres,” leaders of paramilitary groups who were behind the atrocities against the  Lumad  in Surigao del Sur, adding that members of the 75th IB have full knowledge “of forming, arming and using these armed groups, [such as the newly-formed Bangon Lumad] in their counter-insurgency operations.”

The IFFM report added that the Hasmin Acebedo group of San Miguel, Surigao del Sur continues to harass and extort from communities with impunity” despite the “full knowledge of local authorities.”

The report disproved claims by the military during the Senate inquiry in Tandag held last September that alternative schools ALCADEV or the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development and the Han-ayan Tribal Community School ran by church-backed TRIFPSS were cohorts of leftist elements.   

“There were no signs whatsoever of ideological conditioning nor indoctrination and political propaganda in the structuring of the classrooms, textbooks and other learning materials and lesson plans found in the

schools.”

The  report also took note of the health, sanitation and psychosocial situation in the evacuation centers at the Marihatag Gym and Surigao del Sur Sports Complex in Tandag City wherein “vulnerable evacuees are all suffering from infectious diseases,” i.e. upper respiratory tract infections, acute conjunctivitis and diarrhea, because of the apparent “overcrowding, low quality and limited quantities of food, poor water supply and other sanitation facilities to maintain personal and household hygiene, inadequate health services and overall unhealthy living conditions in the centers.”

“The present ratio of toilet bowl in portalets to family is   1:24, hardly adequate for the evacuees’ needs. Solid and human waste collection is done daily but there is still the buildup of human waste in the center because of this disproportion,” the report read. “Potable water supply has been erratic depending on the availability of the government firetruck and supplemented by socio-civic organizations that provide additional household water. However, its potability is not always guaranteed.”

The IFFM report called for the Philippine government to “take definitive action” to resolve the issue of

forcible evacuation of Lumads and “seriously pursue the perpetrators of the crimes committed in Lianga, San

Miguel and other communities that are still being threatened and coerced with impunity by known armed paramilitary groups,” adding that the government must take “steps to disband and disarm these armed paramilitary bandit groups” to ensure the safety of the civilian communities from paramilitary attacks.   

The Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City had earlier questioned the motive and credibility of the IFFM report, expressing its reservations on the church-led investigations.   

“First, we are questioning the legality of its mandate of investigating. Does this body have the authority for this inquiry? More particularly, have the representatives from other countries or international organizations who will take part in this body sought clearance or gained approval from the Department of Foreign Affairs,” Army Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao said in a statement.

Lactao added that the AFP supports the PNP’s Joint Task Foce Bangkaw on apprehending perpetrators of the atrocties against Lumads, adding that they are “doing everything to give justice to the victims,” hence “questioning the intent of the International Fact Finding Mission.”

The UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) had earlier criticized the murders and involuntary evacuation of thousands of lumad communities from their home villages, citing that the “lack of government protection” has exacerbated the exodus of lumad communities from their homes.

Topics: AFP , paramilitary groups
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