Bantay Ceasefire condemns arson, looting in SSB

WE, the more than 900 member-volunteers of Bantay Ceasefire, strongly condemn the recent  burning of 97 houses (64 razed and 33 partially burnt) of civilians in Crossing Dunggoan, Barangay Barurao, Sultan sa Barongis (SSB) allegedly perpetrated by the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Bantay Ceasefire also calls on the MILF hierarchy to investigate and punish, if proven guilty, the Commander Abdulhamid Felmin, alias Maestro, of the Front’s 105th Base Command, who, after committing arson, allegedly carted away seven motorbikes, 17 cows, two carabaos, and killed two other carabaos owned by the civilians. Others involved in the arson and looting should not be spared also of their responsibility over the incident.

It is also but right and just for the MILF to extend medical assistance to Tanjo Dalandas, an innocent civilian, who was hit on his head by a bullet resulting from the alleged indiscriminate firing of guns by the BIAF forces.

The burning of houses at around 11:30 in the evening of July 12, 2010 is a gross violation of the MILF’s General Order or Rules of Engagement in Islam, Article 34, Section 3, which states that  “Civilian People—old people, children, and women shall not be harmed or killed, and those people in convents. (Al-Hadith).”

Bantay Ceasefire, an independent ceasefire watch and monitoring group composed of civilian volunteers and grassroots leaders in war affected areas in Mindanao, also considers the burning of the civilian houses in Sultan sa Barongis a violation of the International Humanitarian Law, Geneva Convention’s Protocol II, and the Agreed Framework on Civilian Protection entered into by the MILF in its peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

This condemnable act is highly disappointing given this time of conscious efforts initiated by the government, MILF, and development institutions in rebuilding and rehabilitating communities damaged by the armed conflict. This incident perpetuates the seeming vicious cycle of violence which targets civilians and placing them in considerable risks. We deem it necessary that a committee shall be formed to fully investigate this matter on hand.

As much as we demanded and continue to demand accountability and compensation for the burning of civilian houses perpetrated by the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Bantay Ceasefire is also calling on the BIAF leadership to also compensate for the damages committed by its ground forces against the civilian population in Sultan sa Barongis.

We also see the need to strictly enforce the July 18, 1997 Implementing Operational Guidelines of the GRP-MILF Agreement on the Cessations of Hostilities, specifically Article 1, Section 3a, which referred to civilians when they are trapped in armed encounters between government and rebel forces including situations of rido. Human rights must be enforced by armed groups regardless of the nature of conflict e.g. local conflicts, clan feuds, or armed skirmishes with the military.

As we condemn this violation of the human rights of the civilian communities by the ground forces of the MILF, we also call on the rebel group not just to suspend its erring troops or subject them to an internal military discipline procedure known only to them. The victims must be given justice, civilians must be protected at all times. (30)