Child rights group, Suara criticize AFP’s exoneration of soldiers in Maimbung massacre

“Legitimate encounter with the Abu Sayyaf,” the JAGO said, was what soldiers belonging to the Army’s Light Reaction Company and Navy Special Warfare Group did in Ipil, Maimbung.

“Pure lies,” said the Suara Bangsamoro party-list.

Ma. Esmeralda Macaspac, executive director of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center, an NGO providing direct psycho-social help to children victims fo human rights violations, criticized  the JAGO for using “its usual excuse of ‘legitimate encounter’ to escape responsibility over the loss of civilian lives during military operations.”

The Sulu Media Desk of the provincial government said in a press statement that the military “insisted the raid targeted the Abu Sayyaf group and that there was a firefight between militants and soldiers in the village.”

“The Western Mindanao Command's Judge Advocate General's Office absolved all the soldiers involved in the killings and said the attack in the village was a legitimate operation,” the Sulu Media Desk said.

It quoted Army Major Eugene Batara, regional military spokesperson, as saying, "it was a legitimate encounter with the Abu Sayyaf and that is according to the report and findings of the JAGO.”

But the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said  there was no Abu Sayyaf in the village and that seven of those slain in the military attack were innocent civilians while the other was a soldier assigned in Cotabato who was on vacation then.

CHR files charges

"None of them was an Abu Sayyaf member. Seven civilians and a government soldier were killed in that attack," CHR Regional Director Jose Manuel Mamauag said. The CHR regional office has recommended the filing of criminal charges against the soldiers involved in the raid.

“The military ordered a probe of the killings after Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan vowed to file criminal charges against soldiers involved in the raid. The killings also sparked protests from international and local human rights organizations and civil society groups,” the Sulu Media Desk said.

Survivors testified in investigations that “soldiers opened fired on villagers as they pleaded for their life. Four of those killed were shot at sea as they fled for safety on boat,” it said.

One of the survivors Rawina Wahid, wife of the slain soldier, Pfc. Ibnul Wahid, said her husband was hogtied and tortured by soldiers before being shot at the back of his head.

"My husband told the soldiers that he is a member of the Philippine Army, but they never listened and dragged him out of the house, bound his hands behind his back and then shot him. They did not listen to our pleading and they killed my husband," Wahid was quoted as saying.

She said she also saw four US soldiers on a navy boat where the body of her husband was brought. "I saw four American soldiers on the boat before Filipino troops blinded folded me," she told reporters. Wahid said she boarded the boat that took her husband's remains to a military base in Jolo town.

The slain civilians were identified as Marisa Payian, 4; Wedme Lahim, 9; Alnalyn Lahim, 15; Sulayman Hakob, 17; Kirah Lahim, 45; Eldisim Lahim, 43; Narcia Abon, 24.

Two of the raiders were also killed and five others wounded when they mistook each others as enemies and traded gun fires, according to the CHR report.

Reps. Yusop Jikiri, of Sulu province and Mujiv Hataman, of Basilan have separately called for a congressional probe into the killings in Maimbung town.

“Convenient excuse”

Macaspac said operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group have become a “convenient excuse” whenever human rights violations are committed against civilians in Mindanao, particularly in Moro-dominated areas.  “They disregard the damage to lives, limbs and property.  They even disregard the findings of investigations by human rights groups and even the Commission on Human Rights,” she said.

Macaspac noted that the exoneration may have been a “move to prevent further antagonizing the soldiers in the midst of rumors of military unrest.”

“The last thing that the Arroyo government needs right now, especially with a fragmented military, is to further rock the boat.  This further shows that at whatever cost, they will trudge any path just to appease the military men and keep themselves in power.  And this they do at the expense of human rights,” she said. (MindaNews)