Accounting of HR violations by gov’t forces during Marawi siege sought

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 5 December) – Government forces and Islamic State-inspired militants committed abuses during the Marawi siege but only the former can be put to task because they are supposed to follow the law, a Maranao civil society leader said over the weekend.

Drieza Lininding, of the Moro Consensus Group, told a forum on “Reporting Marawi, Reporting Violent Extremism” here that they have received reports of Maranao civilians who were allegedly killed by government forces while in the latter’s custody.

Drieza A. Lininding, chair of the Moro Consensus Group. Lininding is also Secretary-General of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development (BNMPD) and co-founder of the militant youth organization, Free The Bangsamoro Movement. MIndaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

“Some Maranao civilians who fell into the hands of the military pretended to be Christians to escape death,” Lininding, speaking mostly in Filipino, further alleged.

He said nine civilians were executed in an area that was not controlled by the Islamic State-inspired militants who staged the siege.

He said the number of civilians who died from the “indiscriminate bombings” and “disproportionate use of force” will never be known.

“That’s why they should not just bulldoze the ruins. Forensics must be done on the corpses, it’s the right of their families,” he added.

But he noted that the families of the missing people are afraid to approach the authorities.

He said the Provincial Crisis Committee put the number of missing persons at 3,000 at the start of the Marawi Crisis.

Quoting a report of the National Humanitarian Interfaith Mission composed of progressive groups, Lininding said that in addition to the air strikes [during the siege] the people are afraid to return while martial law is still in effect.

President Duterte imposed a 60-day martial law in Mindanao on May 23, the day the siege started, and got congressional approval that it be extended until December 31 this year.

A Maranao woman wears traditional garb during the Eid’l Fit’r celebration on 25 June 2017 in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur. Some Maranao women complained of being forced to unveil at military/police checkpoints. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

Lininding said martial law has “disoriented” them limited their courses of action.

“You can’t do what you wanted to do, for example, holding a rally, because of martial law. We’re being limited to Facebook. Is the martial law declaration really necessary?” he said.

He added that soldiers marked the abandoned houses with either “X” or “O”. He said “X” means that firearms were recovered from those houses, and “O” means that the militants had stayed in them.

“The residents had left their houses, so anybody could just enter them…The barangay chairs advised the owners of houses marked ‘O’ not to go home for the meantime for fear of reprisal.

“They vandalized our homes with the marks ‘Welcome ISIS,’ ‘ISIS Lovers,’ and ‘We Love ISIS,” he said.

Volunteers inspect the locks of abandoned houses in Marawi City during a short truce on 25 June 2017. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

“As of now, only four house owners have filed cases for looting, but all houses were looted,” he said.

Complaints of looting had earlier reached the military, which blamed the militants for the loss of money, jewelries and other items belonging to the civilians.

Memories of martial law

Leah Tarhata Mehila, focal person on relief operations of the Ranao Rescue Team, said Maranao women were frisked and those wearing hijab were told to remove their veils at checkpoints.

“One of them said “mamatay na ako, huwag lang hubaran ng hijab,’” she said.

Mehila said that during the exodus of Marawi residents the sight of military reinforcements frightened the elders who experienced abuses during the Marcos-era martial law.

Due to panic and confusion they told their grandchildren to run ahead, she said.

“A grandmother who was holding her grandchild panicked when the latter’s mother got separated from them,” she said, adding the incident brought back the old woman’s memories of martial law.

Both sides

In a 34-page report released on Nov.17, the London-based Amnesty International said government forces, the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups and their allied forces committed violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the five-month siege in Marawi City from May 23 to October 23.

Titled “The ‘Battle of Marawi’: Death and Destruction in the Philippines,” the report said the “militants,” referring to the IS-allied groups, “committed unlawful killings, pillage, hostage-taking, and mistreatment of prisoners” while Philippine government forces “violated the prohibition against torture,” were accused of other “ill-treatment of detainees, and likely committed pillage” and “may also have carried out disproportionate air and ground attacks.”

It also cited looting by all parties in the war zone, as well as areas outside the war zone supposedly under government control. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)