January 4, 2024
“The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) strongly condemns the disproportionate use of weapons in an aerial bombardment by the 403rd Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division of the AFP on December 25 until December 26, 2023, in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, in Northern Mindanao. This demonstrates a brazen disrespect for human rights and international humanitarian law by the AFP,” said Peter Murphy, ICHRP Chairperson.
The bombings from drones, fighter jets, and firing of howitzers at a rebel camp and its surrounding area took place during a two-day unilateral ceasefire declared by the New People’s Army (NPA). Instead of reciprocating the ceasefire, the AFP launched military offensives, brazenly violating the rules of engagement. In the Bukidnon incident, the AFP used multiple 250-pound bombs and artillery rounds made by Israeli company Soltam Systems. 10 people were reportedly killed during the bombardment, and the explosions caused environmental destruction and terror in villages surrounding the area.
In an earlier incident, on December 17, 2023, the 59th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, augmented by Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force troopers, killed two civilians and five NPA in an attack against an NPA encampment in Batangas, Southern Tagalog. Human rights workers documented the desecration of the bodies of the seven, including signs of rape. Relatives could hardly identify the bodies. The two civilians, Pretty Sheine Anacta, 19, and Rose Jane Agda, 30, were said to be visiting a relative in the NPA.
Murphy continued, “Through its disproportionate use of force and terrorizing of local farmers during the military offensives, the AFP violated international humanitarian law (IHL) and showed blatant disregard for the well-being of the people. This violation of the rules of war is especially shocking given the recent indication of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which represents 18 revolutionary organizations including the NPA.”
These recent AFP offensives are part of a series of bombings and other attacks on alleged NPA members in civilian areas. As reported by human rights alliance Karapatan, over 22,000 people across the Philippines were affected by AFP bombings between July 2022 and November 2023. These violent bombardments and military action in the countryside are part of the GRP’s so-called “counter-insurgency” strategy, which utilizes tactics including forced evacuation; hamleting and forcible reconcentration of civilian communities; forced “surrendering” of civilians; arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearances; torture; and extrajudicial killings.
“In the face of such brutality from the AFP in its war against the NPA, ICHRP reiterates its support to the Filipino people’s call for a genuine solution to the armed conflict by addressing the roots including widespread poverty, lack of jobs and industry, and the uneven distribution of land,” continued Murphy. “We have expressed support to the November 2023 joint statement of the GRP and NDFP indicating their desire to resume peace talks, providing a path towards just and lasting peace in the country.
“ICHRP calls on both parties to respect previous agreements such as the Hague Joint Declaration, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which guarantees the safety of peace negotiators, consultants, staff and all those who are involved in the peace negotiations.”
Further comment: Peter Murphy, ICHRP Chairperson, +61418312301, [email protected]