Karapatan condemns harassment of humanitarian mission, calls for probe on possible HR, IHL violations in Quezon mil ops

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemned the series of threats and harassment of members of a humanitarian mission that assists families of alleged members of the New People’s Army who were slain in an encounter with the 85th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army in San Francisco, Quezon province.

The 16-member humanitarian mission travelled on Monday to San Francisco, Quezon, but they were met with numerous combined military and police checkpoints along the way. Yesterday, January 31, 2023, the two vehicles of the mission were impounded in Catanauan town for alleged Land Transportation Office violations. State forces also interrogated drivers of vehicles of the mission teams, inquiring names of all the passengers.

Stranded, the humanitarian mission members were forced to spend the night in Catanauan, as suspected military agents tailed them to the place where they stayed. At around one in the morning, they were alerted when they heard that police elements were inquiring on their whereabouts.

This morning, they tried to resume travel but they were held again at a checkpoint near PUP Mulanay. Meanwhile, the drivers who went to the LTO office in Catanauan, were confronted by the LTO chief and a police official and were reportedly forcing them to admit that their passengers were members of the NPA. They were likewise threatened that they will be charged with more violations and be permanently banned from travelling to Quezon.

“State forces and government agencies are in full connivance in violation of basic rights of persons to travel, for human rights groups to provide assistance, and worse, they are impeding assistance for the families of the dead,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

“Barring the families, and not allowing a civilian humanitarian mission to assist them retrieve their dead, violate provisions in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),” she explained.

The CARHRIHL, an agreement signed by the government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, states under Article 3 that violations of the international humanitarian law includes the “desecration of the remains of those who have died in the course of the armed conflict or while under detention, and breach of duty to tender immediately such remains to their families or to give them decent burial.” Such provision is consistent with articles of the Geneva conventions on the return of the remains of the dead to their next of kin.

Palabay lambasted the military and the PNP as the ones sowing terror in the communities by projecting chaos when they are the ones that is spreading fear and threats against communities within the scope of their operations.

Karapatan called on the Commission on Human Rights to probe into possible human rights violations committed in the course of military operations in the towns of San Andres and San Francisco, Quezon, where the alleged encounters between the NPA and the AFP took place.

“We call on the Commission on Human Rights to help the families of those killed, and look into the situation of the communities on the ground, to see whether there are possible violations in the context of international humanitarian law. The extent of military operations is a cause of serious concern,” said Palabay.

Palabay said that there are very limited reports in the situation of communities, except for reports of class suspensions in the barangays of San Andres and San Francisco.

“The military claimed in their press releases that combined soldiers and police encountered around only 10-15 NPA members. The intensity of their operations, however, spanned across two towns, with several checkpoints posted almost in the whole of Bondoc Peninsula. It is not improbable that they continue to run through these communities, while claiming they respect the rights of civilians when, their presence is the one that causes fear and terror in these communities,” said Palabay.

As of this writing, the humanitarian mission is still in the process of tendering the remains of those killed. #