Military bombings, operations in communities endanger civilians

“Directives to bomb and ‘flatten the hills,’ especially coming from the President, have severe repercussions on the ground. If it was done to please a crowd of military and police dogs or to build up his image, it has nonetheless resulted to the endangerment of civilians, for the nth time. As we see the full extent of the counter-insurgency program, which is further enabled and directed by Duterte’s pronouncements, there is no denying the fascist character of this State,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay on the recent series of aerial bombardment by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in various communities in Compostela Valley and Maguindanao.

On March 9, 2017, President Duterte verbally instructed the military to ‘Go ahead, flatten the hills’ amid the ongoing all-out war and counter-insurgency operations of the AFP. Since his pronouncement, at least two (2) incidents of aerial strikes on civilian communities were reported. 

On March 11, at around 2pm, Hugpong sa mga Mag-uuma sa Mabini Compostela Valley (HUMABIN) reported that the 46th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA), 72nd IBPA, and the 1001st Brigade conducted intensive military operations in the town of Mabini, Compostela Valley, following a reported encounter of the military with the New People’s Army (NPA). The military dropped bombs in the barangays of Del Pilar, Cabuyuan, Panggibiran, and Cadunanang. 

Around 75 families from the villages of Magpalusong and Patawon in Brgy. Cabuyuan evacuated and are now staying at the Cabuyuan Elementary School. A witness said that at least ten (10) bombs were dropped in their area, causing panic and distress among the residents. They also complained of looting as residents found their houses ransacked and goods from their stores stolen. 

In a separate incident on the same day, March 11, Suara Bangsamoro reported that around 1am, four bombs were dropped from FA-50 fighter jets from the 57th IBPA. This resulted to the displacement of around 300 families in Brgy. Andabit, Maguindanao. Some 600 soldiers aboard army trucks and tanks were also seen entering the community at 5:30am. The evacuees sought refuge in neighboring communities. 

The 6th Infantry Division issued a statement confirming the bombings, stating that it was done to drive away members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). A BIFF leader, on the other hand, retorted on radio that they have no membership, and are not based in Brgy. Andabit. On March 13, around 2:30 am, bombings in the barangays of Datu Salbo and Datu Saudi in the municipality of Ampatuan were also reported. 

Military helicopters and continuing operations in civilian communities were also observed by members of the National Peace and Humanitarian Mission led by Bayan, Karapatan and the People Working for Peace in barangays Kaylaway and Aga in Nasugbu, Batangas on March 13, 2017. The mission was conducted to provide immediate food relief and support for at least 200 residents in the said villages. The villages were hamletted in a school building, even before the reported encounter between AFP and NPA in the area. The presence of soldiers and hovering of at least two Huey helicopters in communities even during the mission, have caused fear among the residents. 

These AFP operations were believed to be reprisals to the January 29 successful actions of the NPA against landgrabbing schemes of Henry Sy’s SM Development Corporation in Nasugbu, Batangas, which had long been a subject of displacement and exploitation of farmers in the area. The NPA cleared that the action is not an extortion scheme as reported to and by media. No civilian was reported hurt or killed during the said NPA action. 

“The recent development on the continuation of the formal peace talks is a grain of hope to seriously discuss again the substantial agenda on economic, social, and political reforms. We strongly urge Duterte to stop spewing venomous words which could prompt or be used as license by his troops to become trigger-happy. State security forces should be pulled out from communities. The cause of unrest is not solved by bombing communities or perpetrating more rights abuses,” Palabay concluded.