DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 September) — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) will conduct a “separate and distinct” two-man team investigation on the grenade explosion in a hinterland village here, Emiliano Cajes, Jr., chief of CHR-11’s investigation division said in a press conference at the Philippine Information Agency-11 today.
A still unidentified person lobbed a grenade on Saturday at the detachment of the 69th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Fatima, Paquibato District. But the explosive bounced off upon hitting a tarpaulin and landed in the covered court beside the outpost where residents were watching a circus show, one of the activities lined up for their fiesta on September 13, city police chief Ronald dela Rosa said on Sunday.
In a television appearance on Monday, dela Rosa said 45 people were injured including those who did not seek treatment thinking their wounds were manageable.
But military officials who attended the press conference said the number of wounded victims had reached 47.
Supt. Johnson C. Almazan, chief of city police office’s investigation and detection management branch, identified the explosive as MK 2 fragmentation hand grenade, the kind used to kill or hurt several persons.
Cajes said one of the things the investigation team will look into is the exact distance between the detachment and the covered court.
Major Jake Obligado, chief of the Civil Military Operations of the 10th Infantry Division, said the detachment is about 30 meters away from the covered court.
“If there are combatants, because there are soldiers that are not combatants, they may be doing civil works. But if there are combatants, palagi silang (they are always) military target. So that is one angle na tan-awon nato kung unsa kaduol (that we will check how near), were they combatants during the time, were they after the enemy or just securing the safety of the civilians?” Cajes said.
“I don’t want to preempt the result but in IHL (International Humanitarian Law), if you are combatants, you are a military target. But there are many angles that we can see just like what I have said to them. Walay pasayluon nato, tan-awon nato tanan (We will not condone anybody. We will look at every angle.) We leave no stone unturned in our investigation,” he said.
He said that under IHL a military detachment should not be near a community because it would put civilians at risk so they have to determine if the troops stationed there were combatants.
The investigation may take longer since some of the residents may only speak after their trauma has subsided which may take a few weeks, he added.
Lt. Col. Inocencio I. Pasaporte, commander of the 69th Infantry Battalion, said the “temporary detachment” in Fatima is for the Army’s peace and development outreach team that has to be present in the community to know the residents’ needs and issues, and refer them to government agencies.
Col. Lysander Suerte, commander of the 1003rd Infantry Brigade, said that with peace and development programs, they consult barangay officials and coordinate with civilians.
“Parang pag magsama ang sundalo at sibilyan ay parang bawal. Bawal din ba magsama ang pulis at sibilyan. Para hindi natin makalimutan na granada ang dahilan kung bakit nasugatan ang mga sibilyan (It seems that soldiers and civilians are not allowed to come together. Is it also prohibited for police and civilians as well? So that we will not forget that it was the grenade that wounded the civilians),” he said.
Suerte further said the silence from human rights groups amid the wounding of many civilians was “very deafening.”
Obligado said the likes of Karapatan and Justice for Peace should have spoken about the incident if they really are human rights advocates.
Asked for comment, Rev. Jurie Jaime, Karapatan Southern Mindanao spokesperson, said in a text message that the act itself deserves to be condemned.
But he said there should be an immediate, independent investigation to identify the perpetrators.
“Our investigation is now ongoing,” he added.
For his part, Almazan said the investigation would not be easy and called on the residents and victims to cooperate.
In the same press conference, Fatima village councilman Roberto R. Punay said the residents of Paquibato wanted the culprit to come out voluntarily to give justice to the victims.
The Pulang Bagani Command of the New People’s Army led by Leoncio Pitao or Commander Parago is known to operate in Paquibato.
The rebel group however has not issued any statement on the incident. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)