Rights group decries bombings, IHL violations in Negros, Panay

Karapatan condemns the heightened military operations in Panay and Negros islands, where the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been resorting to artillery strikes and aerial bombings that have terrorized the civilian population in the affected areas.

In Escalante City, Negros Occidental, the 79th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) concocted stories about numerous encounters with the New People’s Army (NPA) 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, 2024 but the 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 slain while tending to his rice field. Peasant Jose Caramihan was reportedly sowing rice when the encounter occurred and was falsely reported by the AFP as the third NPA casualty.

In Panay island, an encounter between troops of the 61st IBPA and the NPA in the early morning of February 28, 2024 in a forested area of Barangay Torocadan, San Joaquin, Iloilo has been used by the military to launch artillery attacks at around 3 a.m., terrorizing the affected barangays. Residents reported that the explosions caused tremors in the surrounding areas, prompting them to question whether the military is using not just artillery fire but aerial bombings in its attacks. The AFP has claimed three unidentified NPA casualties, who could turn out to be civilians due to the indiscriminate nature of the attacks.

Karapatan calls on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate possible violations of International Humanitarian Law in these incidents, which have terrorized and displaced local residents and has reportedly led to the death of at least one civilian. The AFP must not be allowed to continue terrorizing, dislocating and indiscriminately killing civilians with impunity in the course of its brutal counter-insurgency war.