Karapatan: Stop the bombings in rural communities!

July 17, 2023

Human rights alliance Karapatan denounced the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ bombings of rural communities in the course of its counter-insurgency campaign, saying that these have resulted in massive physical and economic displacement among civilians.

Karapatan cited the series of indiscriminate bombings and strafing by the 94th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in the areas bordering the villages of Carabalan and Mahalang in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental on October 6 and 8, 2022 as the most notorious so far under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The bombings in Himamaylan triggered a humanitarian crisis with the forced evacuation of up to 15,024 persons or almost 14% of its population, according to statistics from government welfare agencies.

Said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, “Aerial and artillery bombings are considered violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as they result in civilian casualties and damage to civilian property, especially in farmlands which are the main source of livelihood of the peasant majority in the Philippines.”

“They also indiscriminately wreak havoc on the environment and ancestral domain,” she added.

In the years under the Duterte administration, Karapatan documented 378,203 victims of bombings in 13 regions in the Philippines. “One of the emblematic cases under the Duterte administration,” she said, “was the bombing of Marawi City, when the President declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017 that lasted until December 31, 2019.“

“After Duterte signed Memorandum Order No. 32 and Executive Order No. 70 in 2018,” said Palabay, “the government through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the Unified Commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) increasingly included bombings in its counter-insurgency programs in a desperate effort to crush the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDF) and to decimate the villages deemed to be under their influence or control.”

Karapatan monitored at least 108 incidents involved aerial bombings, 66 artillery shelling, and 49 aerial strafing under the Duterte regime. “From 2017 to mid-2022, the AFP reportedly used at least 591 bombs and 589 artillery shells in 74 rounds of aerial strafing and 56 incidents of bombing,” said Palabay.

“Such bombing campaigns were carried out in 36 provinces (or 44% of the provinces nationwide),” added Palabay. “At least 10 civilians were killed in AFP aerial bombings and shelling in this period.”

In the first year of Marcos Jr.’s rule, Karapatan documented at least 6,931 victims of bombings as a result of the military’s counter-insurgency campaign. The following are among the most recent cases documented by the human rights alliance:

On March 13, 2023, more than a thousand residents of Barangay Culaman, Malaybalay City in Bukidnon woke up to persistent sounds of cannon fire. On March 15, sixteen rockets were dropped by two helicopters followed by a series of strafings in Barangay Kaburakanan. At 8 p.m., there were two waves of cannon firing in the community. Helicopters once again hovered at 2 a.m. the next day. More than a thousand residents were affected by the series of bombings.

On May 8, 2023, at around 2:20 p.m., at least 1,449 residents of Barangay Tawas, Bongabong and 1,932 residents of Barangay Malo, Bansud in Oriental Mindoro were affected by the bombings and strafing in the mountains covering these villages. At least 239 families or 885 individuals evacuated to different town centers in Bongabong.

On May 11, 2023, at around 5:15 p.m., weaponized drones were reportedly fired in the Katarugan mountains in Sitio Katarugan, Barangay Lobo, Cantilan, Surigao del Sur. According to the residents, surrounding trees and vegetation were burned.

Palabay deplored the human cost of the bombings, saying “Civilians, especially women and children, bear the brunt of intensified counter-insurgency operations that often involve indiscriminate bombings and strafing. They are dislocated economically as they are forced to abandon their residences, and leave their crops and farm animals untended for long periods.”

“We demand a stop to the bombings in order to put a halt to the further suffering of rural and tribal communities. As a counter-insurgency tactic, bombings, which affect entire communities,” said Palabay, “are among the worst violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law.”