Human Rights Watch: execution of Loreto mayor and son ‘just plain murder’

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 October) – The killing of the mayor of Loreto town in Agusan del Sur and his son by the New People’s Army (NPA) on October 19 is “just plain murder” and the rebel group’s “revolutionary justice” a violation of international humanitarian law, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement dated and released on October 28.

“The killing of the Otazas – like other NPA executions – is just plain murder,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director. “The NPA’s actions and claims of revolutionary justice handed down by people’s courts are flagrant violations of international law,” he said.

Robertson expressed fears that “the NPA killings may worsen the human rights situation in Agusan del Sur and other provinces in the southern Philippines, where the military and its paramilitary forces have been implicated in extrajudicial killings and forced displacement, particularly against indigenous peoples,” adding that by “resorting to vigilantism in the name of justice,” the NPA is “only serving to harm its own demands for justice for victims of military human rights violations.”

“The NPA should end this charade of unjust ‘people’s courts’ and cease all executions,” he said.

The remains of Otaza and his son Daryl were in Butuan City Wednesday morning amid cries of justice from family members, friends and supporters. The slain mayor was given a 21-gun salute by the Philippine National Police (PNP) while a pair of Philippine Air Force Huey choppers flew over Uraya Memorial Gardens.

“Sleep well my husband and son. Your deaths will not be in vain. Justice will soon be served,” said the slain mayor’s wife Ligaya. She said she could not believe that the rebels would murder her husband just because he wanted “peace and development” for the town of Loreto and its indigenous people.

The HRW statement noted that throughout its four-decade insurgency, the NPA has “frequently executed people found ‘guilty’ by its so-called people’s courts, which do not meet basic fair trial standards.”

In a statement dated October 24, the NPA’s Southern Mindanao Regional Command claimed responsibility for killing Loreto mayor Dario Otaza and his son Daryl, allegedly “to give justice to the thousands of indigenous peoples and peasants terrorized by their tyranny in Loreto and surrounding municipalities in Agusan del sur.”

“Revolutionary justice prevailed when the Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command of the New People’s Army authorized the imposition of a Standing Order and punished warlords GPH mayor Dario Otaza and Daryl Otaza,” the NPA said in an October 24 press statement by Rigoberto F. Sanchez, spokesperson of the NPA’s SMRC.

Mayor Otaza Mayor Otaza, a Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) from the Manobo tribe was a former NPA member who turned outspoken critic of the NPA.

He and his son were abducted by armed men from their residence in Barangay Baan in Butuan City evening of October 19 and their hogtied and bullet-riddled bodies found early morning of October 20 in Purok 2 of Barangay Bitan-agan, a hinterland village in Butuan City.

“The NPA found Dario Otaza and Daryl Otaza guilty of committing acts constituting war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of human rights and international humanitarian law,” the NPA SMRC’s statement e-mailed by NDF Southern Mindanao at 5:46 p.m. on October 24 said.

A revised statement emailed on October 25 at 6:33 p.m. said it was “the people’s court” that found Dario Otaza “guilty of masterminding and ordering the execution of the following heinous crimes against the people and the revolutionary movement.”

The introductory note on the statement emailed October 25, over 24 hours after it released its October 24 statement, said “Please find below the final official statement by NPA SMRC regarding the Otazas. We inadvertently sent an unofficial version of the statement yesterday. Our apologies.” The revised statement’s date was also changed to October 25, even as several news organizations, including MindaNews, had reported on their October 24 statement on the same day.

Other revisions in the October 25 statement include an additional two 9 mm pistols seized by the NPA operatives from the Otaza residence, aside from the four bushmasters rifles, one AK rifle, one AK 2000, two 45 cal. pistols, that it listed in its October 24 statement; that the NPA operatives that raided the Otaza residence and took Mayor Otaza and his son were from the Comval North Davao South Agusan Subregional Command in joint operations with the ”NPA-Northern Mindanao Regional Operations Command,” not “NPA-North Central Mindanao Regional Operations Command” as it stated on October 24.

The October 24 statement’s title was “The Masses rejoice on the death of one of the most despotic anti-Lumad mayors in Mindanao!” while the revised, October 25 statement’s title was “Masses rejoice in achieving revolutionary justice in the punishment of the most despotic Lumad mayor in Mindanao.”

The October 24 statement said “Revolutionary justice prevailed when the Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command of the New People’s Army authorized the imposition of a Standing Order and punished warlords GPH mayor Dario Otaza and Daryl Otaza, to give justice to the thousands of indigenous peoples and peasants terrorized by their tyranny in Loreto and surrounding municipalities in Agusan del Sur” but the revised statement on October 25 said the NPA was “acting on the decision of the people’s court.”

The HRW said that as a party to an internal armed conflict, the NPA “is obligated to abide by international humanitarian law, including common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its Second Additional Protocol of 1977 (Protocol II), to which the Philippines is party.”

It said International Humanitarian Law “prohibits killing civilians, mistreating anyone in custody, and convicting anyone in proceedings that do not meet international fair trial standards.”

It noted that Article 6 of Protocol II specifies that criminal courts must be independent and impartial, and the accused shall have “all necessary rights and means of defense,” among other guarantees, and that those tried by people’s courts are “typically convicted in absentia, thus denied the right to be tried in one’s presence before an impartial court.”

The HRW statement added that claims by the NPA that defendants receive a fair hearing during its people’s court proceedings “are not supported by the facts.”

It said Philip Alston, the former United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions who investigated extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in 2007, described the people’s courts as “either deeply flawed or simply a sham.”

The NPA has admitted to killing government officials and civilians whom the NPA deems to have engaged in acts “against the people” and have also allegedly killed “traitorous NPA or Communist Party members,” the HRW said.

The HRW cited several cases of executions by the NPA: Mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr. of Gonzaga town, Cagayan province in April 2014; Datu Causing Ogao, a leader of an indigenous people’s group, in Davao City in July 2013; Jeffrey Nerveza, a civilian, in Albay, Bicol in February 2011; Raymundo “Monding” Agaze in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental in August 2011; Mateo Biong, Jr., a former mayor of Giporlos town, Eastern Samar in July 2010; Sergio Villadar, a sugar cane farmer, in Escalante City, Negros Occidental, also in July 2010.

“All of these people, the NPA claimed, had been found guilty by its people’s courts,” the HRW said. (MindaNews)