Human rights group: Soldiers stood aside while Lumads were attacked
Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - September 25, 2015 - 4:16am

MANILA, Philippines - International watchdog Human Rights Watch has accused the military of not doing anything to prevent the atrocities against Lumads or indigenous peoples in Mindanao. 

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the military’s claim that tribal war caused the atrocities fall flat when soldiers do nothing to stop the crimes near their area.

“Paramilitaries in Mindanao have been terrorizing tribal people while the military at best does nothing. The Aquino administration should not only be cracking down on the paramilitaries, but also on the military officers supporting them,” Roberston said in a statement. 

“President Aquino should immediately order the Justice Department to conduct an impartial and credible investigation into these attacks, and prosecute those responsible,” he added. 

The military blames tribal conflict for the killing of three Lumad leaders in Lianga, Surigao del Sur last Sept. 1. The victims were identified as Emerito Samarca, executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo.  

Military officials said the activities of communist insurgents in Lumad communities had triggered the conflict. They claim that the Magahat-Bagani Force, a group formed by Lumad members who left the communist movement, was responsible for the killings.

Activists, however, maintain that an Army-backed paramilitary unit staged the killings as part of an anti-insurgency campaign. They said members of the Magahat-Bagani Force were seen with some soldiers before the incident happened.

Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said an investigation is now being conduced to determine if their field units committed lapses when the incident happened.

He said an Army lieutenant is facing court martial for his suppose failure to confront the armed men tagged in the killing of the three Lumads.

“The Army officer was ordered to engage with the perpetrators but he said many civilians may be harmed,” Hao said in a phone interview.

“If the court martial determines that he did not do anything (to prevent the incident), appropriate actions will be taken,” he added.

Human Rights Watch claimed the military “has repeatedly stood aside” while paramilitary forces attack indigenous villages and schools in the southern region of Mindanao.

The group said the paramilitary forces have committed killings, torture, forced displacement, and harassment of residents, students, and educators with impunity.

“Residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch and government officials have linked military personnel to the two paramilitary groups involved in the attacks,” it said.

The military maintains that it does not tolerate any abusive practices or human rights violations within its ranks.

"We are ready to face any investigation," Armed Forces spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said.

ACIRC AGRICULTURAL AND LIVELIHOOD DEVELOPMENT ALTERNATIVE LEARNING CENTER ARMED FORCES BENJAMIN HAO DIONEL CAMPOS AND BELLO SINZO HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH LUMAD MAGAHAT-BAGANI FORCE MILITARY MINDANAO
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