Karapatan calls for impartial investigation on October 23 "encounter" in Midsayap, North Cotabato

Human rights group Karapatan raised alarm over the reported killing of seven individuals in a joint military and police operation in Midsayap, North Cotabato last Wednesday, October 23, 2019 against alleged members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). According to relatives of those killed, the casualties are not BIFF fighters but mere minors who were falsely branded as child soldiers. Karapatan calls for an impartial investigation on the incident to hear out the side of the victims' families and the community as to the real identity of the casualties.

“We raise the possibility that the casualties are indeed minors who fell victims to a military operation. This might be a cover-up to hide a possible massacre of innocent individuals. In Mindanao where martial law has bestowed on the military a misplaced sense of arrogance, brutality, and protection from violation, such a gruesome incident is indeed possible. Just last year in 2018, the massacre of seven fruit pickers likewise branded as terrorists also occurred, and the military packaged this atrocity with the same lies and excuses. There is no transparency in Mindanao where the military considers themselves exempt from accountability," said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

On Wednesday morning, the Midsayap Municipal Police Station and the Philippine Army 34th Infantry Battalion and 8th Infantry Division conducted a joint operation against a certain BIFF member named Mama Macalimbol, who was said to be responsible for bombings in Midsayap. The operation resulted in the killing of seven individuals—including minors—after a supposed armed encounter which lasted 40 minutes.

Allegedly recovered from the corpses were high caliber firearms. Military officials maintained that Mama Macalimbol was among those killed in the operation and that the minors were newly-recruited “child soldiers” of the BIFF. Relatives of the seven individuals killed in the operation, however, dispute on social media the military and police claim that they were involved with the BIFF and asserted that they were merely students and civilians planting palay who were brutally gunned down by State forces without a fight.

“The claims of the families must be pursued. Graphic photographs of the seven individuals killed in the operation show multiple gunshot wounds in the head and the legs, indicating the possibility that they did not actually fight back, contrary to the military and police claims of an armed encounter. Here, we see again the ‘nanlaban’ script which has been recycled countless times to whitewash the brutality of drug-related killings in police operations, including the killing of children. In counterinsurgency operations where children are killed, the latter are declared by the State as "child soldiers" or "collateral damage" to justify their untimely deaths,” Palabay said.

The Karapatan official recounted a similar incident which is indicative of the AFP's propensity to whitewash their crimes: “As already mentioned, a massacre of seven Tausug civilians in Patikul, Sulu September happened last year. In order to justify their crimes, the military tagged the victims—who were harvesting mangosteen and lanzones at the time of their killing—as members of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).” She also said that “with Mindanao under martial law, State forces such as the military and the police have acted with impunity, resulting to outright State terrorism and State-perpetrated human rights violations in the Southern islands. Throughout this unli-martial law, indigenous and Moro communities have been at the end of this repressive measures."

Palabay also called for vigilance amid other sinister tactics by the militarist government to pass even harsher measures that will further perpetrate State terrorism. "Likewise, we are called to remain vigilant against all other anti-people policies that will justify the intensifying attacks against the Filipino people, including the passage of the amended Human Security Act peddled by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon. It is not a choice between martial law and the amended HSA. Such a thinking draws us into a trap. Both are repressive measures that should be discarded. Such policies, on top of current counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapanatagan will only aggravate repression, breed more criminals in the ranks of State forces, and worsen human rights violations," she explained.

“We reiterate our strong demand that this incident in Midsayap must be thoroughly and independently investigated. We enjoin agencies such as the Commission on Human Rights, local officials and other organizations to head this initiative. Karapatan joins the families in seeking justice, in demanding an end to the attacks on indigenous and Moro peoples and, ultimately, and in calling for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao," concluded Palabay.