Abra Update: Military used civilians as ‘human shields’
Lacub, Abra — “The military positioned themselves among us, civilians. We did not want them to join us, but they insisted. We did not want to go to with them back to the Poblacion but they forced us,” said “Boyette”. “Boyette”, who requested members of the National Solidarity Mission in Abra not to use his real name, was among the eight men from Lacub Poblacion used as human shield by the elements of the 41st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) during the September 4 and 5 military operation. Said operation resulted in the killing of two civilians, Engr. Fidela Salvador and Noel Viste and seven members of the New People’s Army.
The NSM in Lacub, Abra started since September 28 to investigate human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Lacub, Abra, in the light of the continuing military operations of the 41st Infantry Battalion and the 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army in the area since August this year. Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon, various people’s organizations, human rights groups and progressive partylist organizations joined human rights workers and peace advocates in Northern Luzon for the said mission. “Boyette” was among those interviewed by the NSM documentation teams.
On September 5, “Boyette” volunteered to join seven other men from Lacub Poblacion to retrieve the body of killed NPA Ricardo Reyes who is from Lacub. “It is the community’s practice to retrieve immediately bodies of their dead kin. I wanted to help because there were only seven of them. Dead bodies are heavy,” he said.
Reyes was among those killed during the military operation on September 4. The military turned over his body to the 16 residents from Bgy. Bacag and Guinguinabang.
“Boyette” said the arrangement was for the residents of Bgys. Bacag and Guinguinabang to bring Reyes’s body to Bgy. Guinguinabang and from there, the eight men from Lacub Poblacion would bring the body to Lacub town. The military did not only turn over Reyes’s body but also placed themselves among the civilians on their way to Bgy. Guinguinabang.
“Boyette” did not expect to see the military in Bgy. Guinguinabang. He said he was not at all afraid when he volunteered because it is “common community practice to help each other” but added, “I started to feel nervous when I saw the military. My companions said there were more than 95 of them.”
At Bgy. Guinguinabang, the community elders wanted to keep Reyes’s body overnight for a ritual for the dead but the military opposed. “The military said we had to go because they had to report immediately to their detachment at the town. They were bent on going to town with us,” recounted “Boyette”.
“Somehow we felt we had no choice at the time so we conceded but offered that we either walk ahead or follow the soldiers’ group. But the military insisted to mix with civilians. As we walked single file, two civilians were ahead of some 70 soldiers, followed by our group who carried Reyes’ body. There were more than 20 soldiers who were behind us,” he added.
The NSM members representing the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, and Karapatan who interviewed “Boyette” concluded that going by how the military insisted and positioned themselves among the civilians, it was a clear case of using humans as shield during the military operation. It contradicts the military’s claim that they simply escorted those who retrieved the body of Ricardo Reyes.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that 549 individuals have been used by the military as guides or human shields in the course of their combat operations under the Aquino administration.
The mission will run up to October 1 in Abra, while people’s organizations, human rights groups and peace advocates will conduct a protest on Wednesday at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in Pasig City.
Cristina “Tinay” Palabay
PUBLIC INFORMATION DESK
Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights
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KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign.