Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Civilian deaths in Mindanao rising—CHR

Leila de Lima, the top human rights official in the country, raised the alarm over the rising human cost of an army offensive against Muslim rebels in the south, saying civilian deaths had gone unreported.

Monitors on the ground have confirmed 20 civilians were killed when troops overran rebel positions on Sunday in Lanao del Norte province, Commission on Human Rights chair de Lima said.

"The fighting resulted in the killings of almost 20 civilians that had not been covered by the media," De Lima said.

The AFP reported that 16 rebels were killed in last week’s firefight.

She told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines today that rights monitors were now gathering the names of the civilians killed.

De Lima said they would countercheck the number of victims reported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the hostilities that erupted recently between the military and forces of Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Lanao del Norte and other affected areas.

De Lima said that this “groundbreaking” step came after the CHR Lanao del Norte investigating team found out that around 20 civilians were killed in the skirmishes between the AFP and the MILF troops led by Abdulraman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo in the town of Poona Piagapo last week.

Army forces swooped to Lanao del Norte after Bravo and his men attacked the area following the breakdown of the Moro homeland accord between the government and the MILF.

‘Ticklish’ distinction

Counterchecking AFP’s figures on victims in combat is a first for the human rights body. De Lima explained that this motion falls under the monitoring mandate of the CHR.

She admitted however, that standards on distinguishing civilians from combatants are yet to be refined and finalized.
She added that the identification of insurgents and their sympathizers is a ‘ticklish’ issue.

“It is a dilemma,” she admitted.

To efficiently address the rising conflict in Mindanao however, she said that they would identity combatants from civilians based on their participation in the armed conflict.

“If they directly attack, if they have arms, then they are considered combatants,” she

We called AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano to get his reaction on CHR’s action, but he declined to comment and referred us instead to AFP Spokesperson Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres. However, we could not reach Torres as of posting time.

Trouble after MOA

Hostilities erupted after the government said that it would not sign the GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement as various parties asked the Supreme Court to stop the government peace panel from signing the agreement due to its “unconstitutional” provisions.

The assailed provisions in the MOA mandate the creation of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), which would cover the original territory of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and include at least 8 barangays in Zamboanga City—Zone III, Zone IV, Busay, Landang Gua, Landang Laum, Manalipa, Pasilmanta and Tigtabon—and around 700 more other barangays from North Cotabato, Basilan and Palawan.

Call for protection of civilians

Meanwhile, various law groups are calling for equal protection of civilians, be they Muslims or Christians.

”Now that fighting has shifted to Moro areas, we hear of insufficient time given to civilians to vacate their villages before AFP bombardment begins. We hear of food blockades against internally displaced people. We hear of NGOs being prevented from delivering urgently needed relief items and media personalities being prevented from covering the humanitarian crisis,” a statement issued by the Alliance of Muslim Advocates of Law and other law groups said.

They cited Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions on the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, particularly on the protection of civilian populations. “Civilians enjoy protection from dangers arising from military operations (Art. 13-1). Neither should they be subjected to attack (Art. 13-2), nor should acts of hostility be directed at places of worship (Art. 16). Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited (Art. 14),” the statement said.

Disorganized disaster management

So far, the government has reported over 40 civilians and soldiers killed, but that figure does not include the 20 latest casualties in Lanao del Norte province cited by De Lima.

It was not immediately clear whether those deaths in Lanao del Norte were a result of deliberate MILF attacks or collateral damage from heavy artillery bombardment carried out by troops, De Lima said.

As of Tuesday, more than 280,000 people had been displaced and are being sheltered in packed and squalid camps in Mindanao, disaster relief officials said.

She said MILF rebels should be condemned for mass pillage, but that the government response in caring for the displaced must also be scrutinized.

In many camps, there were no social workers, sanitation remains woeful, and food and water are in short supply, she said.

Disaster management planning also "appears disorganized," she said

Differing figures on extrajudicial killings

Before the figures on the recent Mindanao violence, the CHR’s numbers have already clashed with that of the AFP and the Philippine National Police with regard to the victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

The PNP human rights investigating team Task Force Usig reported that since 2001, there had been 122 cases of extralegal violence, with victims from such killings recorded as “slain militants.”

The AFP Human Rights Office recorded less than 20 cases of extrajudicial killings.

On the other hand, De Lima said that CHR has documented 436 cases of extrajudicial violence.

But the data from CHR and national security forces do not also match that of Karapatan, a human rights organization. According to Karapatan, there had been more than 800 cases of extrajudicial killings in the last six years. (By PURPLE S. ROMERO
abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak with reports from Agence France-Presse)

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