Rights group denounces harassment of humanitarian mission to Bondoc Peninsula
LGU says AFP-NPA firefight still raging since Sunday
Human rights group Karapatan condemned the harassment of its humanitarian mission in the Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon Province where a firefight between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People’s Army had been raging since the weekend.
In a statement, Karapatan said its mission had been subjected to a series of threats and harassments by the 85th Infantry Battallion-Philippine Army (IBPA) in Catanauan and Mulanay towns on Monday.
The team is assisting families of alleged NPA members reported to have been killed in the town of San Francisco, the group explained.
Karapatan said its 16-member humanitarian mission travelled on Monday to San Francisco but was met with numerous combined military and police checkpoints along the way.
“Yesterday, Tuesday, the two vehicles of the mission were impounded in Catanauan town for alleged Land Transportation Office violations. State forces also interrogated drivers of vehicles of the mission teams, inquiring names of all the passengers,” Karapatan said.
Stranded, the humanitarian mission members were forced to spend the night in Catanauan as suspected military agents tailed them to the place where they stayed.
At around one in the morning of Tuesday, they were alerted when they heard that police elements were inquiring on their whereabouts, the group reported.
On Wednesday, the mission tried to resume travel but they were held again at a checkpoint near the Polytechnic University of the Philippines campus in Mulanay town.
“Meanwhile, the drivers who went to the LTO office in Catanauan, were confronted by the LTO chief and a police official and were reportedly forcing them to admit that their passengers were members of the NPA,” Karapatan said.
“They were likewise threatened that they will be charged with more violations and be permanently banned from travelling to Quezon,” the group added.
Violation of the rules of war
Karapatan’s allegations run counter to announcements made by the 85th IBPA who said they are giving three NPA casualties a decent wake at the old San Francisco municipal hall.
In a social media post, the army unit said it will only tender the remains to “true relatives of the deceased.”
The 85th IBPA also uploaded videos and photographs of its troopers giving medical aid to an alleged NPA fighter wounded in the firefight last Sunday.
But Karapatan said its mission’s and the families’ failure to reach San Francisco belies AFP’s propaganda of adherence to the rules of war.
“State forces and government agencies are in full connivance in violation of basic rights of persons to travel, for human rights groups to provide assistance, and worse, they are impeding assistance for the families of the dead,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
“Barring the families, and not allowing a civilian humanitarian mission to assist them retrieve their dead, violate provisions in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),” she explained.
The CARHRIHL, an agreement signed by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines cites the International Humanitarian Law governing the conduct of war, including allowing family members to retrieve the remains of those killed.
The mission and the relatives with them have yet to recover the bodies the victims.
Karapatan also called on the Commission on Human Rights to probe into possible human rights violations in the ongoing military operation.
Meanwhile, the local government of San Francisco has announced the suspension of classes in 11 barangays from Wednesday to the rest of the school week.
San Francisco Mayor Francisco Edano said the firefight is still ongoing, affecting eleven of their town’s barangays and prompting him to suspend classes. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)