PH Army continues to kill, peddle lies amid pandemic — Karapatan

“It is deplorable that the Philippine Army and President Rodrigo Duterte is sowing State violence, terror, as the country grapples with the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Karapatan strongly condemns the killing of a peasant leader and the arrest of 11 individuals including minors for unfounded allegations of being members and “child warriors” of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Iloilo by 61st Infantry Battalion (IB),” Karapatan Vice Chairperson Reylan Vergara stated. 

“Taking the statements of the 61st Infantry Battalion and the Philippine Army at face value would not only be misguided, but outright imprudent. Their claims have been flat-out denied by the families of the detainees, the barangay officials, and the teachers of the schools they attend, all of whom insisted that they were unarmed civilians. The military is so desperate in manufacturing poorly-concocted lies of NPA raids and arrests as a cover for Duterte’s threats of declaring martial law, militarist pronouncements, and violent attacks against activists being tagged as members of so-called communist ‘legal fronts.’ Amid a pandemic, the country is also steeling further into a de facto martial law and human rights crisis,” Vergara continued.

On April 18, Saturday, the 61st IBPA shot and killed John Farochilin in Brgy. Cabalaunan, Miag-ao, Iloilo. Farochilin is Sangguniang Barangay member of Brgy. Onop and the chairperson of Alyansa sang mga Mangunguma sa Miag-ao. He actively campaigned for farmers’ rights – even meeting, only recently, with the Commission on Human Rights to discuss partnering with the said agency for a public education campaign on human rights issues and to air concerns of violations committed by government troops.

Vergara further said that, “if anything, the members of the 61st IBPA who were involved in the April 18 operation should be investigated for John Farochilin’s death for the motive to kill him being quite apparent” and that “notably, since the unit’s deployment in Panay Island, the 61st IB has been implicated in various allegations of human rights violations – ranging from the warrantless search of homes to the planting of evidence, illegal arrests, and even the murder of two farmers in Maayon, Capiz back in 2017.”

“In all these cases, the 61st IBPA uniformly claimed that the victims were NPA members, seemingly shielding its members from any proper inquiry into the matter. Thus, to accept the Philippine Army’s narrative of events with little or no discernment is the surest formula for impunity,” he said.

Amid Duterte’s threats to declare martial law and of a crackdown on “legal fronts,” the Karapatan officer said that “it is already de facto especially in the countryside, where arresting and killing members of progressive groups and then falsely and maliciously tagging them as NPA members is already a known modus operandi of the military.”

“Under both domestic and international humanitarian laws, civilians and even suspected rebels enjoy protection against arbitrary and excessive action and the unnecessary use of violence by state security forces,” Vergara reminded the government. “It seems, however, that this campaign of red-tagging allows the heinous crimes and abuses committed by soldiers especially against civilians living in rural areas to continue unabated and unscrutinized.”

“A genuine, thorough and transparent investigation into the killing of John Farochilin and the arrest, detention, and the physical abuse reportedly suffered by the 11 detainees while under the custody of the 61st IB should be carried out. It should not merely be a superficial and one-sided inquiry launched for the purpose of deliberately disregarding evidence and swiftly declaring the army absolved of liability. Such type of investigation only emboldens the guilty and encourages the commission of more crimes against innocent civilians and defenseless communities,” he ended.