In last 4 years, 80 Moros become ‘EJK victims’ in South Cotabato, groups say

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 23 June) – At least 80 Moros in South Cotabato province have become victims of alleged extra-judicial killings (EJK) purportedly perpetrated by police and unidentified vigilantes in the last four years, it was gathered Tuesday from various sources.

South Cotabato. Map courtesy of Google

Police, however, denied the claim.

In a statement of concern issued by 30 civil society organizations, human rights and peace advocates in Mindanao, the group strongly condemned the “widespread and systematic killings” targeting members of Moro communities in Polomolok town and adjoining areas in Region 12 or Soccsksargen.

“[The victims] were summarily killed by riding in tandem vigilantes or in the hands of police authorities in the course of so-called police operations against drugs or lawless elements,” they said.

“While we abhor terrorism and equally denounce violent extremism, there is no legal and moral justification to kill any human beings without due process of law, especially innocent civilians,” they added.

The groups appealed to Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. and Philippine National Police Chief Guillermo Eleazar to mobilize peace and protection mechanisms to stop the Moro killings and to bring the perpetrators behind bars.

They also urged the Commission on Human Rights to conduct a thorough investigation on the killings of members of Moro communities for the filing of appropriate cases.

Herbert Demos, the group’s focal person, stressed that despite the soaring number of killings, the police allegedly failed to act and bring the perpetrators to the bar of justice.

Moro communities in barangays Koronadal Proper, Sumbakil, Rubber, Lapu and Bentung in Polomolok town continue to live in fear and under constant threat that a husband, a son or a father could be the next victim, he said.

Citing the testimonies of the victims’ families and witnesses, Demos said the victims were made to appear that they resisted arrest, fighting with firearms allegedly “planted” by the arresting team.

Col. Jemuel Siason, South Cotabato police director, vehemently denied Tuesday that there were incidents of EJKs or that vigilantes were behind the killings of Moro individuals in Polomolok town.

“All the police operations there were considered legitimate, done by virtue of arrest or search warrants issued by local courts…. Mostly, the subjects of our manhunt operations were wanted persons,” he told MindaNews in a text message.

Siason earlier reported that the Dawlah Islamiyah – Maguid Group operates in Moro communities in Polomolok town in South Cotabato, and that some of them were killed after resisting arrest during police operations.

“In such cases, our troops had no other recourse but to retaliate because their lives were under threat,” he added.

Aida Silongan, a Member of Parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), named at least 70 Moros who were victims of alleged EJK in South Cotabato since 2017.

Her consolidated list as of February 24, which was furnished to this news outlet, includes the dates of the killings, their addresses and the beneficiaries of the victims.

In July last year, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which governs the BARMM parliamentary government, already expressed deep concern over the series of killings of Moros in the towns of Polomolok and Tupi in the last two years.

Silongan, who authored a resolution condemning the Moro killings, said that under Republic Act 11054, popularly known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the national government shall ensure the protection of the rights of the Bangsamoro people residing in communities outside the Bangsamoro region and undertake programs for their rehabilitation and development.

South Cotabato is not a part of the BARMM but belongs to Region 12 or Soccsksargen.

The resolution, co-authored by Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Peace Implementing Panel, noted that some of the EJK victims were members of the MILF.

This included Ustadz Mohammad Taha Abdulgapor, professor of the Mindanao State University-General Santos City campus and secretary to the board of directors of the Bangsamoro Development Authority, the MILF’s development arm.

Abdulgapor was shot dead on May 26, 2020 in nearby General Santos City while driving on the way home to Polomolok. His wife was wounded in the attack.

Demos said the “decimation” of the Moro population in Polomolok “is anathema to the ongoing peace process in Mindanao.”

He urged the government and the foreign community to not turn a blind eye on the plight of Moro civilians outside of the BARMM who are living “under highly abnormal living conditions.” Demos clarified that the various groups that signed the statement of concern have no intention of standing in the way of law enforcement operations, but that they only wanted due process and the civil and political rights of individuals respected.

The statement was signed by the IDEFEND – SOCSARGEN, SENTRO-SOCSARGEN, Bawgbug Advocates for Peace and Human Rights, Socksargen Workers Network for Grassroots Advocacy, Ateneo Public Interest and Advocacy Center, Women Initiatives for Social Empowerment (WISE), Transportworkers Alliance-NCTU, Fishworkers Solidarity, Bantay Ceasefire, Gensan Transport Association, Network Against Killings-Philippines, League of Bangsamoro Organizations, Confederated Descendants of Rajah Mamalu Inc., Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Akbayan!, Kilusang Pagbabago Lead Organization Inc (KPLOI), Peacebuilders Community Inc., Mindanao Peoples Caucus, Bangsamoro Communications Network Inc., CSO Movement for Moral Governance, Mindanao Advocacy and Social Communication Inc., Moro Women Development and Culture Center (MWDECC), Mindanao Action for Peace and Development Initiatives, Women’s Organizations Movement of the Bangsamoro (WOMB), Al Qalam Foundation, Tulug Lupah Sug, Federation of Bangsamoro Coordinating Council of the Philippines, and the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD). (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)