Military airstrike in Iloilo indiscriminate, violated IHL

Photo from Panay Today

The reported “encounter” of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division with alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and airstrike in Brgy. Alimondias, Miag-ao, Iloilo last Wednesday, December 1, seem “disproportionate and indiscriminate,” human rights watchdog Karapatan said on Saturday, as it raised concerns that the airstrike violated international humanitarian law with the reported casualties from the incident.

“While the identities of the dead bodies reportedly recovered in the alleged encounter site are yet to be verified, the gruesome remains left by the airstrike is simply reprehensible. Disproportionate and indiscriminate military actions such as aerial bombardments that inevitably harm the lives of civilians and inflict excessive damage to the environment and people’s livelihoods are violations of international humanitarian law, and they should be investigated,” Karapatan Vice Chairperson Reylan Vergara stated.

According to Karapatan – Panay, a village councilman narrated in a media interview that two aircraft flew over Sitio Burak in Brgy. Alimodias early morning of December 1, which was followed by three big explosions and then four more explosions, possibly from an artillery cannon fired by military troopers. On Friday, December 2, the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division Commanding Officer Major General Benedict Arevalo initially reported that at least eight NPA rebels were supposedly killed in the operation.

However, only seven bodies were brought to the Moleta Memorial Chapel in Brgy. Igtuba that evening, and the bodies already emitted a foul stench. One of the body bags supposedly only contained torn body pieces, while a body was not recovered for it had already disintegrated due to the explosions. Yesterday, November 3, the Philippine Army’s 301st Brigade named at least eight of those killed. Arevalo asserted in an interview with the Manila Bulletin that the operation was “a justified use of force.”

Vergara, however, averred that “there is no justification for such violence — especially when their casualties are already beyond recognition, and when the area where they conducted these bombardments are frequented by local residents and nearby communities for their livelihood. Is it necessary for the military to go into overkill in its counterinsurgency operations and waste billions of pesos just to harm and unleash terror upon communities?”

“The media should be granted entry to cover and assess the area where the operation was conducted as we assert that this operation be independently and impartially investigated to determine and verify the identities of the casualties — whether they were actually NPA rebels or civilians — and the extent of the effects and damage of the aerial bombardments upon the nearby communities and the environment. With this, we also assert our call to instead pursue just and lasting peace by addressing the roots of armed conflict over militarism, violence, and repression,” he ended.