Military, police deny human rights abuses

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

STATE forces recently dismissed reports of human rights abuses in Cordillera communities reporting zero violations this year.

In Tuesday's Regional Human Rights Consciousness Summit, the Armed Forces of the Philippines stressed it upheld and improved protocols to prevent abuses coming from the military.

501st Infantry Brigade commander Brigadier General Roger Salvador said human rights advocates have failed to report abuses of erring soldiers but instead give information and sometimes misleading reports to media.

Salvador stressed the 501st IB which covers Cordillera provinces of Kalinga, Apayao, Ifugao, Benguet and parts Mt. Province has been cognizant of human rights stressing the command is strict in enforcing what is right and punishes erring soldiers through proper procedures and investigation.

He said the 501st IB is open victims of human rights violations, as well as advocates, citing channels to process verbal and written complaints are in place.

In the case of a suspected HR violator in their ranks, the military official said they immediately place the erring soldier in custody while a thorough investigation is conducted.

Meanwhile, the Cordillera police also denied any HR violations as reported by Human Rights advocates.

In a recent press statement, outgoing Police Regional Office- Cordillera director Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalong said they have always upheld human rights and cautious in all its operations to avoid civilian casualties even as the PNP has suffered casualties in the past.

“Our operating personnel are also Cordillerans. We always adhere to the rule of law and police operational procedures in all our police operations," Magalong stressed, returning the question to human rights advocates, particularly the CHRA, on how two incidents involving the PNP translate to human rights violations when government forces even rescued the civilians and minors used by rebels in their atrocities against the military.

PRO-Cordillera in its statement also vehemently denied CHRA’s allegations that human rights violations in the region have gone worst, saying the report was unfounded and deceitful.

Magalong, citing the CHRA report, stressed the two minors accosted on November 17 at Mount Sipitan, Aguid, Sagada, Mountain Province, were found secretly entering the PNP’s temporary encampment while a joint AFP-PNP internal security operation was on going.

“The minors, who initially gave conflicting reasons for their presence in the area later admitted - in the presence of their parents - that they are being used by the NPA as spies to gather vital information on the strength and whereabouts of AFP and PNP troops,” Magalong stressed, questioning the CHRA on how the incident became a human rights violation when the minors were the ones who voluntarily gave their confessions in the presence of their parents.

The region’s police chief also countered the minors were immediately turned over to their parents on the same day as witnessed by barangay officials of Aguid, Sagada adding the minors are “doubtless victims of child abuse by the communist rebels.”

“The NPA has in fact violated the rights of the minors to be treated as zones of peace as provided for by Section 22, Article X of R.A. 7610, a statute that implements the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically on the involvement of children in armed conflict,” he said.
“The PNP is now contemplating on filing a case against the NPA for violation of the said law,” Magalong added.

He also said they have brought to the attention of the Regional Peace and Order Committee on November 21 the details of the incident.
Magalong also branded a separate report stating government troops are using civilians as guides in the mountainous terrain in the region as incorrect, baseless and misleads public on the truth regarding the campaign against communist rebels.

According to the AFP, the two civilians police met in the mountainous area of Besao, Mt. Province during a security operation in October were being escorted out of the area when they were fired upon by the NPA.

One of the civilians and members of government forces were wounded during the incident. Despite the attack, police were able to secure the two civilians and immediately turned them over to the Besao Municipal Police Station and witnessed by Sagada Vice Mayor Benjamin Capuyan.

Meanwhile, CHRA secretary general Jude Baggo said instead of blaming them, the PNP must go to the communities where they have recorded human rights abuses.

“Unang-una ang CHRA ay naka-base sa kanyang accurate, reliable and credible documentation. We do not release information just for the sake of statistics but these are all documented cases,” he said.
He added supposed independent bodies to investigate these cases like the Commission on Human Rights “have interests only to protect the government.”

“The culture of impunity is there. There are cases without any resolution and there are cases they claim as without basis. The CHR should be more proactive in their investigations but we support them in their call to improve their powers of not only coming up with investigations,” he further added.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 13, 2013.

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