ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

February 13, 2008 at 8:11 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME.

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-027-2008

13 February 2008

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PHILIPPINES: Soldiers kill eight persons in Sulu on pretext of “legitimate encounter”

ISSUES: Extrajudicial killings; administration of justice; impunity
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes to inform you that eight people, including a four year old girl and a pregnant woman, were killed by soldiers on the pretext of a “legitimate encounter” in a coastal village in Maimbong, Sulu on 4 February 2008. The soldiers claimed the shooting was supposedly in pursuit of an illegal armed group holding a kidnap victim. However, testimonies from survivors indicate the soldiers shot at frightened fleeing villagers on a boat as they tried to escape when the soldiers raided their villages killing six. Two other victims were also shot dead in open view of their relatives. An investigation disclosed that there were no armed groups holding a kidnap victim in the victinity.

CASE DETAILS: (based on the information received from the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, Inc. (CBCS))

On 4 February 2008 at 2:30am, elements of the Special Warfare Group of the Philippine Navy and Light Reaction Company raided a coastal village in Barangay (village) Ipil, Maimbong, Sulu in pursuit of an illegal armed group, Abu Sayyaf Group, holding a kidnap victim Rosalinda Lao, a local Chinese businesswoman. The soldiers, riding in a rubber boat, were reportedly acting on information relayed to them by one of their assets of the supposed group’s presence there. The place, an islet populated with mangroves, had over 30 households.

Soon after arriving in the area, the soldiers reportedly started shooting at the house of Eldisin Hashim, a member of the village council. Eldisin was seen by his wife, whose name was not mentioned, running towards their door to avoid being hit by bullets. But when the soldiers ceased shooting, she found her husband lying dead outside their house. The soldiers then ordered her to come outside. Upon doing so she saw that some of her neighbours had also emerged from their houses.

Eldisin’s wife, her children and her neighbours were told to kneel down the ground. As they were kneeling to the ground, she could hear the soldiers shooting close by.

Later it is learned that at least three of their neighbours’ families, the Lahims, Akubs and Failans, have tried to flee to a safer place because of fear after having been awakened by the loud burst of gunfire. All the eleven of them rushed to the shore to ride on a small wooden boat or bangka towards another island close by. Those inside the boat were Kirah Lahim, his daughter Arnalyn and son Rismin; Myrna Lahim; Rudy Failan, his wife Saida and their daughter Marisa; Risalyn and Sherdalyn Failan; Sulayman and Nasriya Bin Akub.

However, as they paddled towards Sitio (a sub-section of the village) Kaluong in the town of Maimbong, they were seen by soldiers onboard a rubber boat closing in on them. They overheard from a distant one of the soldiers’ shouted to open fire before they started shooting at them. While the soldiers were shooting at them, two of those inside the bangka jumped into the water to steer their boat towards the opposite direction. Saida repeatedly shouted at the soldiers pleading to them to stop shooting because those inside are civilians but the soldiers did not. Six of those onboard the bangka died instantly while five others survived. Those killed were Kirah Lahim and his daughter Arnalyn and son Rismin; four-year-old girl Marisa Failan; Sulayman Akub and four-month-pregnant Nasriya Bin Akub, 24 (Photo 1). They were taken to Barangay Kandang and were buried there near the house of a village head. One of those who survive, Myrna Lahim suffered injuries to her neck (Photo 2).

Also at the same time, Corporal Ibno Wahid, a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) who joined the Philippine Army (PA) as integree, was visiting there where his parents-in-law are residing. Ibno, a resident of Cotabato City, had arrived there three days before the incident. It was when Ibno and his wife Rawina were in their sleep when awakened by thuds of footsteps and stones thrown at a store owned by the latter’s mother in front of their house. Later someone from outside shouted at them to come out threatening they would be shot if they refused.

Ibno and his wife Rawina and her parents immediately went outside. Ibno had then introduced himself to the soldiers by saying “Papa Alpha”, a military language to suggest that he was a member of the Philippine Army (PA). Ibno is attached to the 40th Infantry Battalion (IB), Philippine Army assigned in San Mateo, Cotabato City. But the soldiers did not listen nor believed him. They instead had his hands tied behind his back with a plastic and forced him to drop facing to the ground. Rawina pleaded from the soldiers not to stomp on her husband’s back with combat boots because he was also a soldier like them. But instead they shot him dead in open view of his wife to his back.

Meanwhile, Rawina’s father was also taken by the soldiers close by where he was placed in seaweeds drier. They also had his hands tied with plastic behind his back. Rawina’s parents were also told to drop facing to the ground. The names of Rawina’s parents though were not mentioned.

Rawina later asked the soldiers to carry her husband’s dead body inside their house as it started to rain which they did. After it stopped raining, the soldiers then took Rawina and her husband’s corpse to a small boat towards another boat by the Philippine Navy anchored at the sea. Inside she allegedly saw four U.S. soldiers together with Filipinos soldiers. She also found some of their properties taken earlier from their place; a boat engine, chainsaw, generator, jewellery and some of their livestock. She was later ferried to commercial wharf in Jolo, Sulu where she was dropped and was later transferred to a van going towards a military camp. There she was held inside a room for hours.

Only in the afternoon of the same day she was released when Sakur Tan, Governor of Sulu, had come to the military camp to negotiate for her release with the soldiers. Governor Sakur had asked to take custody of Rawina and her husband’s body. Ibno’s body was taken by his family to their ancestral home in Barangay Bualoh in Maimbong, Sulu where it was buried. Upon returning home, Rawina noticed that several of their personal properties have also gone missing. Her husband’s two-way radio, a.45 cal. pistol and its license, wallet containing P3,000 (USD 73), an ATM card and Identification card.

When the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) later conducted their investigation into the incident in the area, they concluded that the villagers were shot at and their village was raided while in their sleep.

In a report published by SunStar on February 8, an online regional news organisation, CHR regional director Jose Manuel Mamauag was quoted to have said:” It was an attack on the sleeping residents as far as our team’s finding in concern”. In rejecting the soldiers’ claims it was a legitimate encounter, CHR Commissioner for Mindanao Dominador Calamba claim the wounding of soldiers could have come from their fellow soldiers’ guns and not from the villagers whom they claimed to have exchanged fire at them. He also added that there was “no proof” of the Abu Sayyaf Group present there when it happened.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

This is yet another incident wherein security forces admitted killing villagers but justifies their deaths on pretext of a legitimate encounter. In the past, similar cases were also documented, however, some of those cases the soldiers were eventually charged in court or had their versions of the killings rejected following an investigation as in this case mentioned above.

Take the case of the killing of eight farmers in Palo, Leyte in November 2005. The soldiers immediately announce their deaths were a result of a legitimate encounter and the victims were all members of an illegal armed group. They also claimed the victims were armed and had exchanged fires with them. However, investigation conducted by the regional office of the CHR rejected their claim and recommended the filing of charges of murder against them in court. (For details, please see: UP-141-2005; UP-053-2006).

In another case, on September 2004 Bacar Japalali and his wife Carmen were also killed in Tagum City when the soldiers open fired at their house while in their sleep. Bacar died on the spot as he was lying inside his mosquito net while Carmen died as she was being taken to a hospital. The soldiers likewise continued on shooting at her and a neighbour who tried taking her to hospital for treatment. The soldiers also claimed the couple were rebels and they had exchanged fire with them. But forensic examination on Bacar’s corpse was found negative of powder burns. The court later recommended the filing of charges against the soldiers. In September 2007, the soldiers involved were arraigned in court after years of delay in the case. (For details, please see: UA-72-2005; UP-110-2007)

In the Philippines, the policemen and soldiers involved in killing persons on pretext of legitimate encounter are in practice the same person who decides whether or not it was legitimate. The possibility of holding those responsible for the death to account is extremely difficult as the police authorities themselves heavily depends on reports from the field. For instance, after the death of eight farmers in Palo, Leyte, the police conducting investigation entirely depends on the soldier’s version. There was no sort of an independent and credible investigation being done by the police. (For details, please read: UP-019-2006). This practice has long threatened and undermined the security of villagers living in remote areas.

The AHRC has already raised serious concern on these incidents of killings on pretext of a “legitimate encounter” in its Statement: “Legitimate encounter” is not a license to kill”

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to concerned authorities requesting their intervention to ensure that a credible investigation is conducted in this case. The soldiers involved must be investigated to answer allegations against them and that the families of the dead are afforded with adequate compensation. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) must also ensure that its findings are given meaning by recommending immediate filing of appropriate charges in court against the soldiers involved.

The AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions calling for an intervention in this case.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

PHILIPPINES: Soldiers kill eight persons in Sulu on pretext of “legitimate encounter”

Name of the victims killed:
1. Kirah Lahim, 35 years old, a seaweed farmer
2. Arnalyn, 19, daughter of Kirah
3. Rismin, 9, son of Kirah
4. Sulayman Akub, 25, seaweeds farmer
5. Nasriya Bin Akub, 24, four months pregnant
6. Marisa Failan, 4
7. Eldisin Hashim, 40, a member of the village council
8. Corporal Ibno Wahid, a member of the 40th Infantry Battalion (IB), Philippine Army assigned in San Mateo, Cotabato City; a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who joined the army as an integree
Alleged perpetrators: Elements of the Special Warfare Group, Philippine Navy and Light Reaction Company
Date of incident: At around 2:30am on 4 February 2008
Place of incident: Barangay (village) Ipil, Maimbong, Sulu

I am shocked to learn about the killing of eight villagers, including a four-year-old girl and a four months pregnant woman in Maimbong, Sulu on 4 February 2008. Though the soldiers, whose unit is mentioned above, involved in the killing claim the incident was supposedly a “legitimate encounter” in pursuit of an illegal armed group holding a kidnap victim, I have learned though that subsequent investigation by the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) concludes this is not the case.

The villagers, who live in a small island where at least 30 household are, were in their sleep when the soldiers raided the village and started shooting at them. One of the victims, Corporal Ibno Wahid, was shot dead in open view of his wife, Rawina. The couple were inside their house sleeping when awakened by thuds of footsteps and stones thrown at a store owned by Rawina’s parents. Soon after coming outside their house, they had Ibno’s hands tied behind his back and forced to drop facing to the ground. The soldiers did not listen nor believe him when he introduced himself as a soldier. They shot him dead to his back.

Rawina’s parents, whose names were not mentioned, were also taken by soldiers close by. Like what they did to her husband, they likewise had their hands tied and forced to drop facing to the ground.

I have also learned that another villager, Eldisin Hashim, a member of the village council, died when hit by bullets when soldiers started shooting at their house. Eldisin was with his wife inside their house when it happened. He tried avoiding being hit by rain of bullets by dropping outside their house. But when the shooting stopped, his wife found him fatally wounded and his body lying outside the house. His eyes were damage and one of his finger cut-off.

Also at that time close by, six frightened villagers who tried to flee for safety on a small boat were killed when the soldiers shot at them. The names of those who were killed, which includes a four-year-old girl and a four month pregnant woman, are mentioned above. I have learned that they were with five others as they paddle to a nearby island when the soldiers, riding on a rubber boat, close in and started shooting at them. Those in the boat are composed of three families, the Lahims, Akubs and Failans. Even though they shouted and pleaded to stop shooting because they are civilians the soldiers continued on. Though five had survived the attack, one of them, Myrna Lahim, suffered injuries to her neck.

I am extremely shock by this yet another incident of killing on pretext of a “legitimate encounter” taking place. I am aware of this continuing practice and phenomenon of killing of persons, particularly those living in remote villagers, being justified on pretext of an encounter. As in this case, the CHR has itself concluded in its investigation that the victims’ village were raided in their sleep and were shot at. It also rejects the soldiers’ claims that an illegal armed group holding a kidnap victim was present there when it happened. These are serious allegations that require concerned authorities’ adequate action.

I therefore urge you to ensure that the CHR’s findings are given meaning by ensuring that appropriate charges are filed against those involved. The families of the dead should also be given adequate compensation and those requiring protection in the process of prosecuting the case in court, once it is filed, are given such arrangement. The identity of the soldiers involved must be disclosed and that appropriate sanctions are imposed on them. This is necessary to ensure that further investigation are credible and effective; and that it would prevent them from possibilities of taking harsh action against the complainants.

I also urge the police authorities to ensure that investigation into this case is effectively and adequately done. I am concerned that their investigation may be heavily depending on the versions of the soldiers involved, as it usually happens in the past on cases similar in nature, which is completely unacceptable. Apart from the CHR’s findings that should also be considered in this case, the police must ensure the families of the dead and those who had survived the incident, are properly informed of their actions.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
President
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel
Manila 1005
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 736 1010
Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80
E-mail: corres@op.gov.ph

2. Mrs. Purificacion Quisumbing
Commissioner
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188
E-mail: drpvq@yahoo.com

3. Deputy Director General Avelino Razon
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2724 8763
Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763
E-mail: bluetree73@gmail.com

4. Mr. Raul Gonzalez
Secretary
Department of Justice (DoJ)
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
1004 Manila
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 521 1614
E-mail: agnesdeva@yahoo.com

5. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon
Chief of Staff
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
AFP-GHQ Offices, Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 911 6436
Tel: +63 2 911 6001 to 50

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)

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Asian Human Rights Commission
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Tel: +(852) – 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) – 2698-6367

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