KARAPATAN condemns HR, IHL violations by police, military

Karapatan condemns the spate of human rights violations as well as violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) perpetrated by State forces in the past few weeks.

The violations include the brutal killing of civilians and hors de combat, indiscriminate bombings victimizing civilians and showing a disproportionate use of force, enforced disappearance, illegal arrest and detention and fake surrender.

On January 25, 2024, activist-writer Nelson Bautista and his companion Ademar Etol were illegally arrested in Balingasan, Siay, Zamboanga Sibugay by police forces who barged into the house they were staying at around 2 a.m. Bautista has not been heard of since the arrest and remains missing to date. He is the 14th victim of enforced disappearance under the Marcos Jr. regime. Etol, who faces multiple trumped-up charges, including one for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition based on evidence planted by the police, is currently detained at the Siay Municipal Police Station.

On February 20, 2024, Jose Maria Estiller, the brother of former political prisoner Jean Estiller, was abducted in Sto. Tomas, Batangas by five armed men in plain clothes in full view of CCTV cameras. After having him in custody for three days, his abductors, who turned out to be elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police (PNP-CIDG), claimed that Estiller had “voluntarily surrendered” and was facing a string of non-bailable cases.

On February 21-22, 2024, the 79th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) claimed that it had numerous encounters with the New People’s Army (NPA) in Escalante, Negros Occidental to justify its indiscriminate firing, strafing and bombing which has already led to the forced evacuation of at least 300 families from nine barangays in Escalante and the neighboring town of Toboso.

According to reports from the locality, there was only one encounter on February 21, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) exaggerated the number of firefights to justify its use of disproportionate force, in violation of International Humanitarian Law. The military has reportedly fielded its newly purchased T-129 attack helicopters in an apparent attempt to test their ability to terrorize the area through bombings.

The AFP’s attacks have resulted in the deaths of two NPA guerrillas and the extrajudicial killing of a farmer who was tending his fields when the encounter occurred. The farmer, Jose Caramihan was falsely reported by the AFP as the third NPA casualty.

On February 23, 2024, five hors de combat in Bilar, Bohol were reportedly captured alive without a firefight, and had their hands tied behind their backs but were nonetheless summarily executed by elements of the 47th IB, who were reportedly in a race with the Philippine National Police to capture the NPA guerrillas. The PNP casualties were likely the result of “friendly fire” from the AFP but were made out to be from a supposed gunbattle with the NPA.

On February 28, 2024 in Panay island, an encounter between troops of the 61st IB and the NPA in the early morning of February 28 in a forested area of Barangay Torocadan, San Joaquin, Iloilo has been used by the military as a pretext to launch artillery attacks starting at around 3 a.m., terrorizing the affected barangays. The AFP has already claimed four unidentified NPA casualties in the continuing attacks, who could turn out to be civilians due to the indiscriminate nature of the attacks.

Karapatan demands justice for the victims, accountability from the perpetrators and a stop to the human rights violations and the violations of International Humanitarian Law committed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the course of its vicious counter-insurgency campaigns. We and the rest of the human rights community here and abroad stand firm in exposing and opposing these and other notorious incidents related to the Marcos J. regime’s intensified counter-insurgency drive, targetting not only combatants but also civilians, resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, of human rights violations and violations of IHL.