Karapatan to CHR: Probe allegations on abductions, IHL violations vs pregnant NPA fighters

Human rights alliance Karapatan called on the Commission on Human Rights, especially in its capacity as the Gender and Development Ombud mandated by the Magna Carta of Women, to thoroughly investigate allegations of abductions of and violations on International Humanitarian Law against two pregnant New People’s Army fighters allegedly being held in custody by the military.

Under Republic Act No. 9710 or the Philippine Magna Carta of Women, protection for the rights of women victims in the course of the armed conflict is afforded, in accordance to Geneva Convention and additional protocols or international humanitarian law. The Commission is also enjoined to investigate possible violations of Republic Act No. 10353 or the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act and Republic Act No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Law, among other laws on the protection of human rights, in relation to the said cases.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said they received reports that Aurily Havana, 23 (Ka Laiza), of Brgy. Lydia, La Paz, Agusan del Sur and Jennifer Binungkasan, 19 (Ka Laile), of Sitio Bulak, Brgy. Lower Olave, Buenavista, Agusan del Norte were abducted by elements of the 402nd Infantry Brigade in Butuan City on November 3, 2022, while they were on medical leave. Both Havana and Binungkasan were pregnant at the time of their abduction.

“The 402nd Infantry Brigade has yet to admit to the abduction of Havana and Binungkasan,” said Palabay. “To date, their whereabouts are unknown.”

Palabay further disclosed that Havana and Binungkasan were taken when they were scheduled to meet two other women Red fighters on medical leave — Cherilyn Rebita and Jackilyn Egtob who had been in the custody of the military since August 2022 with a pregnant civilian and were held without charges in a military safehouse in Barangay Ata-Atahon, Nasipit, Agusan del Norte where they were subjected to severe mental torture and their lives and families constantly threatened for 69 days.

“Rebita, who was seven months pregnant upon her abduction, gave birth to a baby girl while held captive,“ said Palabay. “Weeks later, she and Egtob were reportedly coerced into joining a so-called black operation where they would return to their NPA unit and convince Rebita’s husband as well as Egtob’s fiancé and brother, both Red fighters, to surrender. They were also ordered to steal three firearms.”

“In an even more despicable move,” said Palabay, “the 402nd Infantry Brigade held hostage Rebita’s infant daughter Baby Rhea and the pregnant civilian arrested with them to pressure the two women guerrillas to comply with the AFP’s orders. However, after subsequent demands to release Baby Rhea, the military was later forced to give the child to her grandparents.”

“Havana and Binungkasan remain missing, however. We condemn in the strongest terms the abduction and disappearance of Aurily Havana and Jennifer Binungkasan, the abduction and 69-day illegal detention of Cherilyn Rebita and Jackilyn Egtob and the AFP’s unconscionable use of an innocent child in its psy-war operations against the NPA,” said Palabay.

“The AFP should surface Havana and Binungkasan and recognize their rights under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) as well as other international human rights protocols to which the Philippine government is a signatory,” demanded Palabay. “The Marcos government should likewise hold the AFP, particularly 402nd Infantry Bde chief Brig. Gen. Adonis Ariel G. Orio, accountable for violating the Anti-Desaparecido Law and the Anti-Torture Law.”

“Above all,” said Palabay, “we call on the Marcos regime to demonstrate its sincerity to arrive at a genuine resolution of the armed conflict. Experience has shown,” she added, “that conducting dirty psywar operations targeting vulnerable Red fighters, their families and relatives is not the solution.”

“The armed conflict can only be resolved by addressing the deeply rooted social, economic and political causes that have been fuelling it for decades. The government should resume peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” she concluded. #