By DAVAO TODAY
A peace advocacy group is calling for an independent probe on reported human rights violations and the cost of military operation in the course of the three-week Zamboanga crisis.
This was the call of Bishop Delfin Callao Jr, convener of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace Mindanao and chairperson of the Mindanao Bishops Conference (MINBISCON) of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.
The group has made similar calls in the past on issues ranging from the peace process with the National Democratic Front and the alleged military hand in the terror bombings in Mindanao.
There should be an independent assessment of the cost of the all-out offensive and the AFP should be accountable for the use of taxpayers’ money. They cannot simply waste money like they have a cache of military pork barrel,” Callao said.
Last week, the Aquino administration declared victory over the MNLF after all hostages were freed.
But Callao said it was more of a “military victory” at the cost of damaged houses and lives.
“What is clear for now is the AFP’s military victory. But we doubt if the government scored a political victory after the smoke has cleared. In fact, it has merely succeeded in further deepening the wound in the Mindanao peace process and in the Moro people’s quest for the right to self-determination,” he said.
The bishop added that government’s “militarist solution” as in the past “all-out war approaches have failed to bring about peace.”
“There is silence in the front in Zamboanga now. But that does not mean peace has been achieved,” Callao added.
The bishop said “instead of political negotiation which is closer to the ‘straight path’, the Aquino government intentionally took the ‘warpath’ in the Zamboanga crisis. Aquino’s war has clearly led to a bigger problem than its intended outcome.”
Callao said Sowing the Seeds will coordinate with humanitarian aid groups in conducting solidarity and mercy missions to Zamboanga City.
On September 9, members of the Moro National Liberation Front engaged government troops in in Zamboanga City and held five coastal villages where the Philippine office of the Human Rights Watch said there were accounts of MNLF forces using civilians as human shields and government troops manhandling captured or surrendered MNLF elements.
It added that government troops also used civilian facilities such as a hospital as a station for soldiers to mount sniper fire, and on “mistreatment” and “torture” of detainees including children.
The group said that as of October 1, police had taken custody of 277 suspected MNLF rebels and the Department of Social Welfare and Development also placed under its watch six children .
Charges of rebellion has been filed against 97 detainees.
Government statistics accounted more than 10,000 houses damaged in five barangays; 118,819 persons or 23,794 families displaced and sheltered in 37 evacuation centers.
“Justice and restitution is owed to the people of Zamboanga City and Mindanao,” Callao said.
Callao said the MNLF “will also have to be accountable if found violating international humanitarian law and if its actions are deemed as military adventurism.”
The bishop said they will document violations to human rights and international humanitarian law and submit their report to churches, the human rights and peace committees of the House of Representatives, and international human rights and peace bodies.
Lately, the Human Rights Watch said it was denied access to government’s detention facilities to verify reports of “beatings and other mistreatment” done on suspected MNLF rebels in detention.
It did not give details to the denial of access but it narrated information from witnesses and relatives indicating abuse.
The group said they received reports such as that of a “77-year-old man [who] alleged that soldiers pushed him to the ground and then kicked and stomped on him repeatedly after he was arrested as a suspected MNLF rebel.”
Three teenagers also told Human Rights Watch that they were detained, “blindfolded and then repeatedly punched, slapped, and kicked.” They showed cuts and bruises to the group.
“They told us to admit that we were MNLF,” one 15-year-old told Human Rights Watch. “One of them pushed me to the ground and kicked me in the back.” The 17-year-old said security forces beat him to try to force him to admit he was a rebel fighter. He said he eventually lied and said he was with the MNLF to get the beatings to stop.
The other youth alleged that soldiers tied his hands so tight that the rope cut into his wrists. (davaotoday.com)mnlf, zambo