By JIGGER J. JERUSALEM
THE human rights group Karapatan has brushed aside the military’s call for it to investigate the alleged summary executions carried out by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Bukidnon, saying the challenge was a result of a lack of understanding of its core mandate.
The group said its primary job is to conduct investigations into atrocities committed by state forces and law enforcement agencies.
The response was on the dare made by Brig. Gen. Edgardo de Leon, commander of the Army’s 403rd Brigade, in connection with the exhumation of the remains of four people believed killed by the NPA in the towns of Kitaotao and San Fernando, Bukidnon.
The graves were unearthed by both police and Army personnel on Thursday.
De Leon said, “I call on [Karapatan], the self-declared watchdog of [International Humanitarian Law], to investigate this case and release its findings to the public.”
Those buried in Barangay Digongan, Kitaotao were identified as retired police officer Joel Rey Galendez, Army Sergeant Reynante España, and tribal leader Dionisio Havana.
The three were said to be taken by force by NPA fighters who set up a road blockade in Barangay Kalagangan, San Fernando, on Aug. 22, 2017.
Also exhumed from a grave site in Barangay Matupi, San Fernando town, was Remon Manoos, 24, single, a resident of Barangay Balagunan, Santo Tomas, Davao del Norte.
Manoos, police said, was a former communist rebel who was executed by his comrades on Jan. 28, 2019, when it was found out that he surrendered to the government.
“The exhumed cadavers and the revelation of the eye witnesses prove that the NPAs are the one perpetrating extra-judicial killings, contrary to allegations by militant groups,” de Leon said.
He said the executions carried out by the Maoist insurgents were clear violations of IHL.
“They (NPA) killed non-combatants. If they would claim that those cadavers were captives, then the more that they are liable for IHL violations, punishable under Republic Act 9851,” he added.
De Leon said captives are supposed to be taken care of. If they are sick and wounded, they should be sent to health services provider.
“Moreover, the datu [Havana], who was a civilian, should not have been held captive because he has no direct participation in the armed conflict,” he said, adding that the “NPAs are really terrorists, worthy of public condemnation and be declared by communities as ‘[personae non gratae].’”
But Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said the group’s job is to investigate abuses carried out by agents of the government.
“Time and again, we have repeated the core of our mandate which is to monitor, document, and seek accountability for state-perpetrated human rights violations,” she said in a statement.
On the issue that they are focusing their resources only on cases involving state agents, Palabay said: “We again remind them that the government is the primary duty bearer in upholding and protecting human rights.”
“As we condemn the continued killing of individuals critical of the government, we likewise remind the Duterte government – alongside its bloodthirsty state forces – that they have the foremost duty to uphold and protect human rights,” Palabay said.
“They (government) have billions at their disposal and yet, these are used to discretionary funds and policies that tear communities apart, sanction and reward killings, worsen impunity, and further violate people’s rights,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party, in a statement released Aug. 24, denied any hand in the Bukidnon executions.
“The stories weaved by the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] around the so-called ‘mass graves’ are faulty at best. The more details the AFP reveals, the more incredulous the critical observer becomes,” it said.
On the accusation that the NPA has demanded money from families in exchange for the freedom of the captives, the CPP said “it was also not clear how they communicated or much money they provided.”
But in a news article, family members claimed that they received text messages from the communist rebels who asked not just cash but also two horses, pigs, and even rice.
The same report also said the NPA’s demands were met, but efforts by same family members to ask for proof of life were not provided by the captors.