Fact-finding missions to probe rights abuses in Mindanao

Subject of investigation of the group led by the Regional Ecumenical Councils in their respective areas are the murder of George and Maricel Vigo in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato, as well as alleged military harassments in the municipalities of Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur; Colombio in Sultan Kudarat; and in the towns of Arakan and Tulunan in North Cotabato, said Kelly Delgado, of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao.


Delgado said the Kidapawan team will also investigate supposed politically motivated assaults to people's organizations and party-lists groups because North Cotabato has reportedly become a hotspot for human rights violations.


"You can see the widespread violations there with the government's ‘Oplan Bantay Laya’. Human rights groups claim the military is neutralizing activists with killings, legal harassments, surveillance, and order of battle lists," he said.


Delgado said, though, that human rights violations are widespread in Mindanao, but that his group is only prioritizing cases due to constraints.


North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, in a statement after the death of the Vigos, appealed against extra-judicial killings in his province. "I appeal to all groups not to make our province a laboratory in experimenting the effectivity of extra-judicial killings as a method to neutralize insurgency. I will not allow this to happen," he said.


The fact findings teams are scheduled to visit the Army's 39th Infantry Brigade headquarters in Makilala, North Cotabato. Human rights groups have claimed that the 39IB’s order of battle list includes many civilians, among them members of people’s organizations.


The fact-finding teams intended to mobilize members of the church, the academe, lawyers, media practitioners, and local government units in the mission to "uphold and protect human rights."


Results of the fact-finding, according to the Karapatan statement, will be presented to the media on Sept. 20, a day before the anniversary of the declaration of martial law. It will be reported formally during the Mindanao Human Rights Summit here on Sept. 22-23.


The investigation came three months after unidentified men killed the Vigo couple on June 19.


Four months ago, a motorcycle-riding man lobbed a grenade at the office of the militant youth organization Anakpawis, also in Kidapawan City. The incident hurt Jobani Tacadao, 24, spokesperson of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-North Cotabato; and Ogie Ubalde, 25, a staffer of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.


Delgado said the inter-religious group are led by protestant bishops Constante Claro and Delfin Callao Jr.; Fr. Peter Geremia from the parish of Tulunan, North Cotabato; Assumption Sister Irene Caharian from the Sisters Association of Mindanao; Asatidz Leo Manan and Samuel Buat of Suara Bangsamoro.