Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has condemned the senseless killings of seven civilians from a Tausug community by government troops amid the Duterte administration’s continuing implementation of martial law in Mindanao.
De Lima, a known human rights defender here and abroad, said the military should have strictly adhered to the established rules of engagement to avoid unnecessary casualties while there are continuing acts of terrorism in the island.
“I strongly condemn the reckless military operation that instantly wasted seven precious lives. The attempt to bring peace and order in Mindanao should not be at the expense of human lives. The Bangsamoro people, especially the youth, should not be the collateral damage of warfare,” she said.
“The army troops should have a clear understanding of the rules of engagement in military operations to prevent inflicting harm upon the civilians. Soldiers are expected to know the appropriate response in every dangerous or hostile situation and not just go into a shooting spree without knowing their target,” she added.
News reports showed that the Armed Forces of the Philippines claimed that seven alleged members of notorious Abu Sayyaf terror group were killed in a recent encounter in Bgy. Bakong, Patikul, Sulu.
The Moro rights group Suara Bangsamoro, however, confirmed the alleged Abu Sayyaf combatants were civilians from a Tausug community who sought permission from the military to harvest their fruit trees in their farmland in Sitio Tubig Bato in Bgy. Kabuntakas, Patikul last Sept. 14.
The seven young men, including a minor, were reportedly captured alive by scout rangers from the 32nd Infantry Battalion at around noon time last Friday and were all dropped off lifeless at a police station at around 4 pm of the same day.
De Lima, who has been very vocal against the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, said the Duterte administration’s continuing implementation of martial law cannot justify the senseless killings and reckless operations by the military in the war-stricken island.
“Since Mr. Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law, reports of violations of human rights and reckless operations by government forces were recorded. How many more innocent lives are going to suffer?” she asked.
“This recent regrettable incident should remind Mr. Duterte that his imposition of a more authoritarian restriction on civil liberties through martial law in Mindanao only promotes violence, places his people’s life in great peril, and is obviously not a solution to a lasting peace in the island,” she added.
Duterte first declared martial law on May 23, 2017 after clashes erupted between government forces and members of the Maute terror group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. The declaration was extended until Dec. 31 this year with concurrence of the two Houses of Congress.
A year after the Duterte administration has placed the entire region under the state of martial law, De Lima filed Senate Resolution 768 seeking a Senate probe into the widespread reports of human rights abuses in Mindanao, especially by government forces.
In filing the resolution, she cited the report published by local human rights group Karapatan claiming that 49 victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in Mindanao – or an average of one victim was killed every week since the region was placed under the rule of martial law.
The same report claimed it documented 22 cases of torture, 116 victims of frustrated EJKs, 89 victims of illegal arrest and detention, and 336,124 victims of indiscriminate gunfire and aerial bombings where at least 404,654 individuals were displaced.
“If the records of violence are not enough to convince Mr. Duterte that martial law only promotes abuse of power, recklessness, and a culture of impunity, I don’t know what else will,” she said.
De Lima said she hopes justice will soon be served for the seven innocent Tausug men who died in the hands of the military, noting that, “the government should hold accountable those responsible for these deaths.”