MANILA - The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Tuesday it would investigate claims that the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division (7th ID) allegedly maltreated and forced members of an Aeta community to eat human waste during an encounter in San Marcelino, Zambales.
CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia in a statement raised concern on the alleged "cruel and degrading treatment" of Aetas, who were suspected to be affiliated with the New People's Army (NPA).
"The Commission for its part, in conjunction with the ongoing military investigation, will be conducting its own separate investigation through its regional office to ensure impartiality and attain the truth in these allegations," she said.
Maj. Amado Gutierrez, chief of the 7th ID's public affairs office, denied the allegations of "bombing of IP community, feeding of feces, illegal detention and physical beatings," calling it all lies made by alleged front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
“We did not bomb any IP community in Zambales but only the enemy’s position in accordance with our standard operating procedures," he said in a statement.
"The CPP-NPA's front organization must realize that it is the presence of the NPA bandits in the community that causes fear due to their massive exploitation and atrocities and not the law enforcement authorities who are ensuring the safety of the people."
Gutierrez said an encounter took place between the 703rd brigade and NPA in Sitio Lomibao, Barangay Buhawen on Aug. 21 where 5 Aetas suspected to be members of NPA were arrested. State troopers also recovered ammunitions and subversive documents.
The Aetas underwent a medical evaluation in San Marcelino and were declared by the municipal health officer to be in good health, he said.
The tribe chieftain, Marcelo Galado, also denied soldiers bombed the houses of the Aeta community, Gutierrez added.
The 7th ID is mulling pressing charges against the Umahon para sa Repormang Agraryo, College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and League of Filipino Students who reportedly made the accusations against the military online.
In a Facebook post, the CEGP said the Aetas were "beaten up, unconstitutionally arrested, and fed feces by soldiers" after the indigenous people reportedly refused to evacuate the area.
Maj. Gen. Alfredo Rosario Jr., 7th ID commander, also said there was "no truth" to the accusations hurled against them.
"We vehemently condemn these series of lies and deception they spread online to intentionally mislead the public from the facts for their own political interest," he said.