MANILA- A Maranao leader who has seen the harsh effects of war in Marawi City made a tearful plea before Congress Saturday as she alleged human rights violations under martial law in Mindanao.
Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a former member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, narrated certain incidents of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by government forces in Marawi City as lawmakers deliberated on whether or not to extend military rule in Mindanao.
“I am from Marawi City. Please ask us what do we feel? Please ask us how do we stand up and arise?” she said before hundreds of lawmakers at Batasang Pambansa.
Tomawis alleged that the military has committed human rights abuses amid offensives against terrorists in Marawi City, including the case of a 20-year-old special child whose hands were burned with hot water while being interrogated by government troops.
The boy, he said, was suspected of being a Maute group member.
Some Muslim women are also forced to endure tough conditions according to Tomawis, citing the case of 2 pregnant women from Pagadian City who were interrogated by authorities after they were found carrying packs of dextrose in their bags.
“Because this is a war. Of course it is national security but every 5 days, our rescue volunteers bury a baby,” she said, citing a specific incident of a mother who endured the loss of a child.
“Nanigas ang baby sa Iligan hospital,” Tomawis said.
One Muslim woman was also forced to remove her clothes in an evacuation center, Tomawis said. She, however, did not detail circumstances of the alleged incident.
“May isa pong humubad sa isang evacuation center. In Islam, bawal po humubad. Kaya po kami nakaganito. Naka-cover ang face ng ilan, bawal po makita ang mukha namin, ang suso namin, ang aming panty. Umalis kami sa mga bahay naming walang panty na dala,” said Tomawis, tearful in her anguish.
“I am so sorry I have to speak for 250,000 people and 400,000 Maranaos scattered all over the country,” she added.
In another incident, Tomawis said the military secured the safety of 26 men in a rescue operation but later on asked them to remove their shirts and blindfold themselves while walking.
“Ang sinabi pong boses ng isang authority eh ‘Maghukay na kayo ng inyong libingan’,” she said.
Tomawis also lamented the suffering of Muslims forced to flee their homes, saying some could not bury their dead immediately, as they should according to Islamic burial rights.
“One hundred days or almost 60 days not buried. What if it was your grandfather na hindi inilibing? Sa Islam po, one day lang po, hindi pwede. Bawal sa Islam. Hindi po pwedeng iwanan na hindi buried ang katawan,” she said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año meanwhile made the assurance that the military would address complaints of abuses, saying they are “very sensitive” to the feelings of the people in Mindanao.
“Gagawin po namin lahat para 'di magkaroon ng inconvenience dito sa mga residente ng Marawi. But one thing we assure you [is] that we never intend to harm or violate any human rights and, in fact, we are welcoming any complaint. We will conduct appropriate investigation and punish and apply sanctions to those who committed any violation,” he said.
On Thursday, military Public Affairs Office (AFP-PAO) chief, Colonel Edgard Arevalo assured the public that the rule of law will prevail if martial law in Mindanao is extended.
"Wala tayong ulat ng report ng pag-abuso sa ating hanay," he said.
Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon meanwhile said the agency was still validating reports of suspected human rights abuses in Mindanao.
“We do not have a categorical statement to say that there are no human rights violations because many of the people had left their homes and they had to attend first to the considerations of taking their family needs as they were displaced. But at the time that has been coming we have been receiving more and more reports,” he said.
Clashes in Marawi City have left at least 571 dead, including 427 terror suspects, 99 government troops, and 45 civilians. The conflict has driven away roughly thousands of residents from the city and nearby areas.
Congress convened in a special joint session on Thursday to vote on President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend his 60-day martial law proclamation until the end of the year to resolve the long-drawn crisis.