Human rights in the armed conflict-A A +A
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
AS EXPECTED, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army traded not just deadly bullets but propaganda barbs as well.
Colonel Jonas Sumagaysay, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, charged that the NPA used civilians as human shields in violation of the Rules Of Engagement of the Geneva Convention and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL), a pact signed by the National Democratic Front and the government.
Sumagaysay cited the presence of armed NPAs in the vicinity of an elementary school that caused students, parents and teachers at to panic during the 1st Scout Ranger Company hot pursuit operations against the NPA guerillas in Toboso.
As expected, NDF Negros spokesperson Frank Fernández denied Sumagaysay’s accusations that New People’s Army guerillas used civilians as “human shields” during the Scout Ranger on their guerilla camp. On the contrary, Fernández accused the Philippine Army in Negros for the involvement of its two soldiers in the killing of Bayan Muna member Benjamen Bayles in Himamaylan City.
I read Fernández’s November 15, 2010 online statement posted on the Philippine Revolution Web Central contesting Col. Sumagaysay’s press statement. Fernández’s rebuttal however was off-tangent.
First, he skirted altogether the question of an NPA camp near a school—a civilian institution protected under the IHL. The NPA might not have directly used civilians as human shields, but an armed guerilla camp in the vicinity of a school would endanger the safety of students, teachers and parents.
Maybe the AFP could be held accountable for the raid on the NPA Toboso camp since a firefight could endanger the civilians. But the bigger human rights accountability under IHL would be on the side of the Maoist guerillas for choosing the site in the first place.
Second, raising the murder case of Benjamen Bayles in Himamaylan is a non-sequitur. The issue is the presence of armed groups in the vicinity of protected persons and institutions in Sitio Odiongan, Brgy. Tabun-ac, Toboso, not in Himamaylan.
Besides, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have admitted that two soldiers were involved in the June 14 murder of activist Bayles.
Even Major General Vicente Porto, commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, didn’t flinch in admitting that the AFP’s inquiry “revealed that the detained suspects were soldiers of the 61st Infantry Battalion based in Negros.”
In fact, the full power of the State is bearing down on the accused soldiers, as admitted by Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has the “smoking gun” to pursue the prosecution of the two Army soldiers until they are convicted.
On another note, I have to commend Col. Sumagaysay in invoking IHL and CARHRIHL. Lately, the AFP is saying and doing the right things. I hope they consistently walk the talk.
Lately, AFP Chief of Staff Ricardo David Jr has expanded the powers of the military’s Human Rights Office, assigning human rights officers down to the battalion level who will pursue complaints of abuses against soldiers. David has made respect for human rights a cornerstone under his watch.
“To further strengthen the AFP’s resolve and to enhance its campaign in ensuring observance of human rights, international humanitarian law and the rule of law, the AFP shall designate HR officers down to the tactical level (battalion),” David issued in his directive.
Thus, the HRO will now be headed by a brigadier general, not just a decorative colonel since it was put up in 2007. Moreover, the deputy commanders of every unit would act as concurrent human rights officers in their respective units.
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Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on November 17, 2010.