Karapatan to CHR: Investigate reports on AFP’s IHL violations in Surigao, Cagayan

Human rights alliance Karapatan called on the Commission on Human Rights to investigate reports on alleged violations on human rights and international humanitarian law inflicted on civilians by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in recent counter-insurgency operations in Surigao del Sur and Cagayan province.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay cited reports that elements of the 9th Company of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion led by a Captain Agoña killed 48-year old farmer Danny Malinao, after they fired indiscriminately on a group of five farmers who gathered to harvest their vegetable crops in Sitio Emerald, Brgy. Diatagon, Surigao del Sur at around 8 a.m. of January 24, 2023. The four other farmers survived when they ran for their lives. “To cover up this blatant violation of the IHL, the elite military unit later falsely claimed that Malinao was killed in a firefight with the New People’s Army, according to initial reports,” said Palabay.

In yet another incident, the Tactical Operations Group of the Philippine Air Force under the 501st Infantry Brigade conducted aerial bombings using Sikorsky and Augustawetland T129 attack helicopters on upland rice and corn farms in Sitio Birao, Brgy. Hacienda Intal, Baggao, Cagayan, last February 2, 2023, forcing some 150 families from Birao and the adjacent sitios of Reggaay, Krosing, Marus and Patina to evacuate.

“We fear that there are civilian casualties,” said Palabay, “since the military rained bombs while the farmers were in the thick of side-dressing and spraying their crops.” Carabaos and other farm animals may have been hit as well and other civilian properties were likely damaged, she added.

“It is unarmed civilians who have been bearing the brunt of the AFP’s vicious counter-insurgency operations,” said Palabay. “They are often deliberately targeted, in brazen disregard of international humanitarian law protocols because the military suspects them of supporting the NPA,” she said. “This refusal to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants has resulted in mounting civilian casualties in the State’s decades-long counter-insurgency war.”

International humanitarian law, which governs armed conflicts, prohibits attacks on non-combatants and killing or inflicting harm on captured or wounded combatants. The Philippines has signed and ratified more treaties on IHL than any other country in Southeast Asia and has even ratified a law, RA 9851, that punishes violators of IHL, bewailed Palabay, but we never run out of reports of IHL violations by the AFP, such as the bombings of communities and the killings of civilians on the pretext that they are armed combatants, she said.