MANILA, Philippines - International watchdog Human Rights Watch has accused the military of not doing anything to prevent the atrocities allegedly perpetrated by members of a paramilitary group against indigenous peoples (IPs) in Mindanao.
Phil Robertson, rights group deputy director for Asia, said over the weekend the military’s claims that tribal war caused the atrocities fell flat when the soldiers did nothing to stop the crime.
“Paramilitaries in Mindanao have been terrorizing tribal people while the military does nothing. The Aquino administration should not only be cracking down on the paramilitaries, but also the military officers supporting them,” Robertson said in a statement.
He urged President Aquino to order an investigation on the attacks on lumads and prosecute the perpetrators.
The military blamed tribal conflict for the killing of three lumad leaders – Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo – in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1.
Activists, however, said an Army-backed paramilitary unit was responsible for the killings, as part of an anti-insurgency campaign.
They said members of the Magahat-Bagani Force were seen in the company of soldiers before the three were killed.
Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said an investigation is being conducted to determine if their field units committed lapses.
Hao said an Army lieutenant is facing court martial for his supposed failure to confront the armed men tagged in the killing of three lumad leaders.
“The Army officer was ordered to engage with the perpetrators but he said many civilians might be harmed,” Hao said.
“If the court martial determines that he did not do anything (to prevent the incident), appropriate actions will be taken,” he added.
The Human Rights Watch claimed the military repeatedly “stood aside” as the paramilitary forces attack indigenous villages and schools in the southern region of Mindanao.
The military said it does not tolerate any abuses or human rights violations within its ranks.
“We are ready to face any investigation,” Armed Forces spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said.
Read more on The Philippine Star