Rights group, church raise alarm on civilians killings in Negros Island

Rights group, church raise alarm on civilians killings in Negros Island

A LEADING human rights group and the Catholic church in the Philippine have raised alarm over the reported killing of civilians and the alleged rights abuses brought by government’s anti-insurgency operations in the Negros Island in the central Philippines.

“We view with concern what's happening on Negros island and join the call by several sectors there to resolve these issues. The New People’s Army has admitted to have extrajudicially killed at least eight people that they accused as spies,” Carlos Conde, senior researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.

“These executions, carried out after sham trials, violate international law and may constitute war crimes,” said Conde.

“Having said that, the Philippine military also needs to ensure that its counter-insurgency operations on the island do not violate the human rights of residents, even suspected rebels. Both parties need to abide by the rules of war,” added Conde in a report from Catholic news site UCA News.

The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging Maoist-inspired guerilla war since the late 1960s, the longest running insurgency in the world.

It has been designated a terrorist group by the Philippine government, the USA, European Union, Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada.

Meanwhile, Vincent Parra, the Commission on Human Rights chief in Negros Island, said they have launched a probe into the killings of civilians who were allegedly identified as “military agents” by the rebel forces from April to May 2024 in various remote villages in Negros Occidental as publicized by the latter’s press releases.

“Executing people is a violation of the right to life…Even our courts cannot order the death penalty. Killing cannot be justified on the allegation that they are military informers, it is a violation to the right to life,” said Parra in a statement to the media on May 11.

“We welcome any investigation that will shed light on these incidents and help bring justice for the victims and their families,” added Army Maj. Gen. Marion Sison, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Negros Oriental, in a separate statement.

In a pastoral letter dated May 12 by Diocese of San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, the Catholic church calls for the tolling of church bells across Negros Island every 8PM “as a prayer for the end of violence” on the island.

The Diocese of San Carlos is one of the four dioceses on Negros Island that covers some towns and cities of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental provinces, including the San Carlos City.

Alminaza’s pastoral letter, entitled "Embracing Our Christian Duty to Work for Integral Peace" to be read in Sunday masses, came amidst the series of civilian deaths and the alleged May 6 clash between government forces and the rebels in another village of Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, which reportedly displaced some 580 residents.

“The Catholic Church Social Teachings offer us a guiding light in these times of turmoil. Pope Francis, in his ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ and ‘Fratelli Tutti’, emphasized the need for us to build bridges of dialogue, to embrace solidarity, and to work tirelessly for peace,” Alminaza said.

To outline practical steps toward building integral peace, the bishop encouraged “dialogue among all parties in the armed conflict to control and resolve the fundamental issues driving unrest, aiming for sustainable peace.”

For over 50 years, the clash between government troops and communist rebels reportedly claimed the lives of at least 40,000 Filipinos.

The Philippine government said that from 89 active NPA guerilla fronts in 2018, these have been reduced to 11 guerilla fronts, with an estimated strength of more or less 1,000 members.

These guerilla fronts, which the government forces aimed to dismantle within year 2024, are five in Luzon and three each in Visayas and Mindanao islands of the country, according to National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict executive director and undersecretary Ernesto Torres Jr. in April 2024 statement. (Ronald O. Reyes/SunStar Philippines)

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