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Palace rejects CHR tack

DESPITE the declaration of the Commission on Human Rights, Malacañang insisted on Saturday that reports of abuses against tribesmen in Mindanao are not true and even reiterated military claims that most communist rebels are indigenous people, called lumad.

“A crime happened there. It’s a law enforcement issue. The [Philippine National Police] is investigating and the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] says [allegations of abuses] are totally not true. In fact, General Hernando Iriberri said so,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin  Lacierda said in an interview over a state-owned Radyo ng Bayan.

Stop the killings. Tribesfolk from Mindanao hold up signs expressing their beliefs at a forum in Quezon City on the same day Commission on Human Rights Chairman Chit Gascon declared that the killings in Mindanao that were being blamed on the military are actually extrajudicial killings. LINO SANTOS

“It is a significant [that] three out of four rebel returnees [are indigenous] people. You know, if there is no access to resources by some people, they will really resort to extralegal means,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda said there is no need to form another set of investigators to probe the alleged abuses because there is already an ongoing investigation and the AFP has already answered the allegations during a congressional budget hearing.

Lacierda made the assertions after CHR Chairman Chito Gascon said the situation of the lumad in Mindanao needs government attention because it is becoming graver.

“The situation is getting grave. It needs comprehensive government response. The situation of our refugees in Tandag, Haran, Malaybalay and elsewhere needs to be attended to,” Gascon said on Friday.

“There have been horrendous atrocities and crimes perpetrated by persons who should be identified.”

Gascon said the CHR, a constitutional agency, will conduct a public inquiry in Davao on Sept. 23 and 24.

“Our approach will not focus on isolated cases like in Haran or in Lianga. Our approach is to understand the difficult situation,” Gascon said.

But even if the CHR fact-finding mission has not yet been completed, Gascon said it is clear that the killings were actually executions.

“It is clear to us, from the photos alone, that these were extrajudicial killings. And we condemn it,” he said, stressing that that did not mean security forces were responsible for the killings.

Gascon made the remarks after he met with lumad leaders at the CHR headquarters in Quezon City, on the same day some congressmen and human rights advocates asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of amparo after they learned that they were included in a “hit list” after they helped the tribesmen.

Lacierda also denied the existence of such a “hit list” and said the Palace will let the Supreme Court decide the matter.

“I am not aware of that hit list that they are claiming, but since they have already filed a petition for those proper writs before the court, then let the court processes take its course. If there is a basis or not, the courts will decide,” he said.

Lacierda later revealed that the government does have a list, but it was not a “hit list” but a “list of warrants of arrest” in line with the Aquino administration’s efforts to run after criminal elements.

“But certainly, what we have are those warrants of arrest. We have a list of those who have warrants of arrest that we are now looking,” he said.

He then cited that under Department of Interior Local Government’s “Oplan Lambat Sibat” program, the agency has been “very, very” effective in arresting all those who have warrants of arrest.

But in a 36-page petition to the SC, the lawmakers and rights advocates, through the National Union of People’s Lawyers, complained that they are being subjected to surveillance, red-tagging and various forms of harassments.

Among the petitioners include Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus, former Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, Children’s Rehabilitation Center executive director Jacqueline Ruiz, Rural Missionaries Coordinator Sr. Mary Francis Añover, Rev. Irma Balaba of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and Ofelia Beltran-Balleta, representing the family of former Anakpawis Rep. Beltran who passed away in 2008.

The petitioners claimed that the hit list was appended to a criminal complaint the AFP and Philippine National Police filed against some of their colleagues after they helped lumad communities in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.

“This is an indication that the [Criminal Investigation and Detection Group] was provided with dossiers of the Petitioners and the other individuals included in the lists. Obviously, such dossiers came from other sources, since the individuals whose names appear in the lists, including the petitioners, are not fugitives from justice, and that the conduct of counter-insurgency operations is not a function of the CIDG,” the petitioners lamented.

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