CHR asks military to ensure safety of civilians during operations

But Alberto Sipaco Jr., Commission on Human Rights regional director, said it is hard to avoid hurting civilians during encounters especially when both forces have already fired at each other.  

"But it's a reality. It is hard to keep them safe when caught in the midst of an encounter," he said, adding some encounters are called for even these may trigger evacuations.

"But it should be avoided," he told MindaNews in an interview Saturday night at a fellowship night with the media organized by the military's Eastern Mindanao Command.

Sipaco said that before going to the battlefield, the military must bear in mind that lives of civilians should not be endangered.

If there is an encounter, he said, the military has the responsibility to ensure that civilians' rights are respected and protected.

He said, however, that it's not only the military that is at fault.  "Even the NPA, especially the NPA, should be made accountable," he said.

Sipaco said it is "very unfortunate" to hurt civilians during encounters but that the military will unlikely apologize for it would be an admission of fault when it was only called for by the situation.

He said the focus should be on what combatants must do before any encounter to avoid harming civilians.

The commission, he said, is investigating the case of Grecil Buya, 9, whom the military claimed was a child soldier killed in an encounter between government forces and communist rebels two weeks ago in New Bataan, Compostela Valley.

Brig. Gen. Carlos Holganza, chief of the 1001st Infantry Brigade, earlier said they would apologize for her death as an initial probe showed she was not a child soldier.

But he said they will only do so after ironing out some minor details, including doubts her father was a rebel.

Some 300 residents of two villages in Panabo City were forced to evacuate when the military launched aerial attacks in pursuing the rebel group that raided on Easter Sunday the Davao Prison and Penal Colony and carted away 103 firearms.

Hundreds of residents fled to the city proper for safety, more than an hour after the shelling.

The residents hit the military for bombing their villages. They denied allegations by the military that their areas are rebel hideouts and that the NPA took them hostage.

Holganza said they are still investigating whether the military should be held liable for the attack that caused the evacuation. At the same time, he defended the military, saying they will never put civilians in danger because their duty is to protect them.

When pressed on the issue, he was mum on whether the military would apologize if found liable.

Party-list group Gabriela Women's Party lambasted the military for airing doubts on whether they were really the ones who hit the 9-year old victim.

"It is a lame excuse to cover up the military's madness in solving the insurgency problem in the country killing innocent civilians, children included,” Luzviminda Ilagan, GWP chair, said

The human rights group Karapatan announced Buya was the 58th minor killed in the hands of the military under the Arroyo administration. The figure includes unborn children whose mothers were reportedly killed during the Arroyo administration.

Gabriela accused the Armed Forces of disrespecting International Humanitarian Law, a set of rules that seeks to safeguard the safety of civilians during armed conflicts.

"Not only did the military violate the right of the innocent child to live, but also cultivated trauma and paranoia to the children who have already been living in horror in communities under intense military deployment and operations," Ilagan said.