ICRC urges villagers to link up with their staff on reported violation of IHL

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/17 October) — The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged villagers in North Cotabato and Maguindanao towns to link up with their staff in cities of Cotabato and Davao and their partner organizations, so that reports of alleged violation of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in their areas would be studied and later investigated.

Anastasia Isyuk, communication coordinator of the ICRC in the Philippines, stressed in a media conference in General Santos City on Saturday that promotion of IHL is their priority task.

According to the ICRC, IHL is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.

Isyuk was told of the presence of the elements of the Philippine Army and members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) in many civilian-dominated villages in Makilala, a hinterland town in North Cotabato, and in many conflict-affected towns in Maguindanao.

Accordingly, the soldiers and paramilitary troops have occupied houses of civilians and government facilities, including day care centers, barangay halls, and health centers in a bid to “win the hearts and minds” of the populace, or not to be lured by promises of rebel organizations, in particular the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

A case cited was the bombing on October 6 of a civilian’s house which was occupied by elements of the 39th IB of the 10th Infantry Division in Barangay Bulatucan, Makilala, by alleged communist rebels led by a certain Commander Enoy of NPA Front 51.

Reports added the rifle grenade landed on the roof of the house owned by a certain Paraiso but which had become the temporary headquarters of a squad of the 39th IB. Shrapnels hit two houses of civilians nearby.

A radio report said fear has also gripped civilians living near the Army base, some six meters from the national highway in Makilala, when sporadic firing was heard after the bombing, according to Linda Manliguez, an official of the Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa New Bulatucan (Farmers’ Organization in New Bulatucan).

Isyuk urged individuals, including peoples’ organizations, affected by the presence of government troops and rebel fronts, to raise the issue to their group.

“We have (personnel) in the region to look into the matter. I suggest those affected by these reported IHL violations raise their concerns to our staff in areas near them,” said Isyuk.

ICRC has personnel in the cities of Cotabato, General Santos, and Davao.

“The ICRC has also partnered with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) in the region in assisting families displaced by the conflict,” she stressed.

Issues, including Republic Act 9851, the law passed in 2009 that protects and penalizes serious violations of IHL, were discussed during the media workshop on IHL and reporting of conflict held at the Family Country Hotel and Convention Center in General Santos City on October 16.

Isyuk of ICRC and Red Batario, consultant for Southeast Asia of the International News Safety Institute, were among the speakers. (Malu Cadelina-Manar/MindaNews)