MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/25 October) – Civilians should not become the objects of attacks. This is the crux of International Humanitarian Law or IHL, the law governing the conduct of both state and non-state armed forces in armed conflicts. IHL seeks to ensure that all combatants refrain from doing actions that endanger the lives of civilians.
That’s why we shudder at the news last month that at least 40 civilians were injured when a hand grenade exploded inside a covered court in a village in Paquibato District, Davao City. A few days later, the New People’s Army admitted responsibility for the incident, issued an apology and promised indemnification for the victims. It said the explosive was meant for the military detachment beside the covered court.
The tragic incident raised at least two issues:  the danger posed by the presence of military stations in populated areas, and  the recklessness of the NPA rebels who carried out the attack. This is not to say that we condone acts of aggression by the rebels. But they should at least observe discretion so as to spare the lives and l imbs of civilians.
But while the greater blame rests on the NPA, the military should rethink the wisdom of maintaining outposts near residential sites, be they urban or rural areas. If the military refuses to act, then the local government units should assert their supremacy to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.
How the opposing forces conduct themselves in the field has once again come to the fore with the death last week of a pregnant mother and her two sons in a village in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur. Reports gathered by MindaNews said the bullets that killed Juvy Capion and sons John Mark and Jordan had come from the unit of the 27th Infantry Battalion that responded to the alleged presence of Juvy’s fugitive husband in their house.
From the looks of it, the soldiers opened fire without considering the fact that civilians – including children – were inside the house.
Juvy’s husband, Daguil Capion, reportedly slept about 200 meters away from the house as a precaution. The military however insisted it was an encounter and that they simply fired back after Daguil’s group fired at them. But since no soldier or fugitive died and three civilians lay dead after the smoke had cleared, the military is now hard pressed to explain its side on the incident aside from saying it was an encounter.
The military can prove it was indeed an encounter if it could show investigators the empty shells from the guns of their supposed adversaries. However, a statement emailed today by an anti-mining coalition – Daguil is leading a group opposed to the entry of Sagittarius Mines Inc. in the ancestral domain of his tribe, the B’laan – said the military had “sanitized” the house of the Capions. The blood had been wiped clean and the victims’ clothes had been disposed of, it said.
If it’s true, it will only make things harder for the military. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at email@example.com)