Families of the “Lacub martyrs” went to Manila to redress their grievance against the “war crimes” committed by the military in its operations in Abra in September.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA — Families of the civilians and rebels slain in Lacub, Abra filed on Oct. 24 complaints of violations of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) committed by the Phil. Army’s 41st Infantry Battalion in its military operations on Sept. 4 to 6.
The complaints were directed against the 41st IB’s violations of Part 4 of CARHRIHL pertaining to Respect for International Humanitarian Law. Named as head of the alleged perpetrators was 2nd Lt. Jose Mari Landicho of the 41st IB, under the 503rd Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division.
Edith Wayas of the secretariat of the Government of the Philippines Monitoring Committee (GPH-MC) received the complaints. When asked by the families what happens after their filing, she explained that the secretariat will submit a copy to the Monitoring Committee, headed by lawyer Efren Moncupa, which will validate the cases with the concerned unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Formed in 2004, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (AFP) monitors violations of the 1998 CARHRIHL by the two parties, and is tasked to recommend actions to the concerned party. The JMC has not been meeting, but the secretariat of each monitoring committee continue to accept complaints.
As of Oct. 24, the government side has received 4,080 complaints, while the NDF side has received 1,922.
Part 4 of CARHRIHL applies the international humanitarian law that covers the rights of civilians caught in the armed conflict, combatants who surrendered, were rendered hors de combat or unable to fight, prisoners of war, and relatives of civilians or combatants affected.
It also prohibits killing or torture of hors de combat and civilians, forcible evacuation, the use of civilians in military operations, desecration of remains of those who died during fighting, failure to report about a prisoner, and denial of the rights of the relatives of a prisoner.
On Oct. 1, the National Solidarity Mission led by the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) reported violations during the Sept 4 to 6 military operations, such as: extrajudicial killing of civilians, killing of hors de combat members of the New People’s Army, mutilation and desecration of their remains, use of civilians as human shields, and violation of the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous communities.
Among the complainants were: Nelson Salvador, husband of Engineer Fidela “Delle” Salvador, and Paulynn Viste, sister of Noel Viste. Delle and Noel were the two civilians who were killed during the operations.
Delle, a staffmember of the Cordillera Disaster Response and Development Service (CorDis RDS) and the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC, Inc), was in Lacub to monitor their projects when she was caught in the military operations.
Noel was a peasant resident of Lacub who was among the 24 civilians who helped retrieve the bodies of the rebels, and were used as human shields by the soldiers. He was separated from the group and was later found dead.
Nelson said that the result of the autopsy on Delle’s remains made him suspect that she was tortured before she was killed. He said Delle’s primary cause of death were the gunshot wounds that damaged her heart and lungs, and killed her instantly. But she also had contusions, lacerations and hematoma all over her body, which wouldn’t occur if she was already shot dead during an encounter, as the military claims.
Her skull was also broken into pieces from a “blunt traumatic injury,” which was the contributory cause of death.
Nelson also said members of the CHRA were the first to see Delle’s remains on Sept. 6, at 6 p.m. at the Pineda Funeral Home in Bangued, Abra, two hours after the morticians fetched it from the 503rd Brigade headquarters in Barbarit village, Lagangilang, Abra. The military version claimed that they airlifted her remains from their detachment in Bantugo village, Lacub, after she died at the encounter in Mt. Kitoob, Guinginabang village.
The human rights workers described that Delle’s body was “still soft” and blood was still fresh. Nelson said a doctor told him that rigor mortis sets in two to six hours after death. If Delle was killed at midnight on Sept. 5 as claimed by the 41st IB, the body should have gone in rigor mortis when the CHRA staff saw it 18 hours later.
Nelson said that adding insult to their injury was that the military spread lies about who Delle was and how she was killed. The AFP’s Northern Luzon Command, in its Sept. 11 Facebook post branded Delle as an NPA member and that she was killed in a legitimate encounter.
Rebecca Monte and her husband Noel also came to file a complaint for the killing of their daughter, 33-year-old Recca Noelle Monte, an NPA member. Autopsy showed that she died from “blunt traumatic injuries in the head, face and chest,” which means she wasn’t killed in the armed fighting.
“Her skull resembled that of a crushed egg and her brains were missing,” Recca’s elder sister Jang described in a Facebook post. She also had massive hematoma in her torso, her legs had multiple fractures, with some parts of the bone shattered.
On Oct. 22, the Lacub martyrs’ families, who were mostly from the Cordillera region, also went to the House of Representatives to meet with legislators from the Makabayan bloc, and Quezon City 6th District Rep. Jose Christopher “Kit” Belmonte.
The lawmakers filed a resolution for a joint investigation of the congressional committees on human rights and national cultural communities on the human rights violations by the military in Lacub.
Cynthia Jaramillo, wife of slain NPA leader Arnold Jaramillo, said Congressman Kit Belmonte knew Arnold when they were both student activists. He said that he will deliver a privilege speech on the resolution at the plenary session on Oct. 27.
The families also staged a picket in front of the AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo Oct. 23. They filed a complaint with the International Committee on the Red Cross on the same day.
NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni, in a statement addressed to the CHRA on Oct. 20, said the 41st IB officials Lt. Col. Rogelio Noora, Capt. Deo Martinez and 2nd Lt. Landicho “committed atrocious war crimes and crimes against humanity and other grave violations of international humanitarial law.”
He added that they “should be held accountable for these war crimes. The responsibility of the Commanding Officer of the 5th Infantry Division, under which the 41st IB operates, should also be investigated.”
Jalandoni added that the CARHRIHL “authorizes the investigation and trial by the NDFP and the GPH of those accused of violations of HR and IHL.” The CARHRIHL also provides for indemnification of the victims or their survivors.
Jalandoni said he appreciates the families’ call for the resumption of the peace talks between the GPH and the NDFP, which collapsed in February 2013.
He said that there is a possibility of the talk’s resumption: “A series of consultations between the NDFP Negotiating Panel and a high level delegation of the GPH has resulted in a meeting between the two sides scheduled in Utrecht within the next few days.”