By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Human rights groups in Davao City and Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte have issued a strong demand for the dismantlement of all military detachments and patrol bases in civilian communities after the September 7 incident in Brgy. Fatima Paquibato.
On Sept.1, a unit of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) Medardo Arce Command tossed a grenade at a military detachment. The detachment happened to be located in a crowded area and reports said villagers were, at that time, watching a performance at a nearby local circus. Some 45 civilians were reportedly wounded, including 17 to 18 children. The wounded were rushed to the nearby Rivera Hospital in Panabo. Others were rushed to the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC).
The Medardo Arce Command under the NPA’s Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command immediately issued an apology for the incident.
United Church Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) Bishop Modesto Villasanta, convener of the Exodus for Justice and Peace (EJP) has, in the meantime, urged the 10th Infantry Battalion to leave the area.
“This is for the benefit of the farmers and Lumad communities who complain of being used as human shields and are subject to various forms of threats, harassments and other abuses by the military elements. Under the guise of peace and development, hinterland villages are subject to counterinsurgency operations under Oplan Bayanihan,” he said.
The EJP has been actively involved in peace work and has engaged in the facilitation of the humanitarian release of prisoners of wars, as well as in the conduct of interfaith missions and other direct services for militarized farmer and indigenous communities. It is comprised of church people, academics and other professions who support the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“The NPA has taken the first step- it has owned up to its errors, committed to indemnify and levy necessary sanctions and punishments on those responsible for the incident. The second party, the AFP is now being challenged to heed the call made by the city`s second highest executive.
The AFP is compelled by law to withdraw unless it wants to show contempt for international humanitarian law and human rights protocols, “the EJP convener said.
Most militarized region in the country
Villasanta said human rights groups and concerned Paquibato residents have been persistent in their demands for the pull out of military troops. He said residents have previously held a series of protest actions and lobbying activities demanding the dismantlement of the military detachment long before the Paquibato incident.
Besides the detachment that stands three meters away from the village hall in Fatima village, there are 23 other detachments of the 69th Infantry Battalion and 84th IB in Paquibato, Marilog, Bagiuo districts in Davao City.
In the whole Southern Mindanao and boundary villages, there are more or less 10,500 military personnel under the 10th ID, 6th ID and 4th ID, all making the region that most militarized in the country.
Last year, the City Council investigated the presence of a detachment near a public elementary school in Paradise Embac, Paquibato. Vice mayor Duterte supported the Sangguniang Panglungsod (SP) resolution urging the dismantlement of the detachment, but Mayor Sara Duterte went against it.
“The SP resolution underscored the dangers posed by the military detachment, especially against children. The resolution takes off from the complaints of parents and teachers of Paradise Embac who were forced to suspend classes due to the construction of a detachment of 69th IB within three meters from the school. In view of all existing protocols on war and human rights instruments, the military must voluntary pull out its troops and detachment from civilian populated areas, “ Villasanta said.
NPA self-criticizes on Paquibato
Last September 7, the Medardo Arce Command of the NPA released a statement to the media and the Filipino public to apologize for the casualties of the Paquibato incident. Command spokesman Rigoberto Sanchez said the NPA will take concrete measures to indemnify the victims “consistent with the principles of revolutionary justice and the policies governing the NPA and the revolutionary movement.”
Sanchez said the NPA’s 1st Pulang Bagani Company made a wrong decision in initiating a tactical offensive against the AFP detachment located in a civilian population. The unit was said to be targeting the military detachment and destroy the structure, but the plan backfired.
“The NPA erred in considering the circumstances,combat intelligence and all pertinent operational information in instigating the action. In the face of this gross mistake in judgement, the MAC-SMROC-NPA is currently initiating an internal investigation and is ready to take appropriate courses of action, to include among others, disciplinary action on the responsible unit,” Sanchez said.
In reactions to demands of certain quarters that the NPA surrender the members of the unit involved in the Paquibato incident, the NPA said it is not subject or subsumed within the legal and constitutional system and processes of the GPH, and that it has its own system of correcting the errors its members commit against civilians and non-combatants.
“The September 1, Paquibato incident was a display of serious but isolated human error, while the AFP’s human rights track record is a daily occurrence and hallmark of its mercenary character. The US-Aquino regime and the AFP’s reputation as a criminal coddler, butcher, killer, human rights violator is hideous. It makes a mockery of its own justice system; its judicial system is for the exoneration of perpetrators and the perpetuation of exploitation by the ruling class. Its justice system is not to give justice for the victims or to liberate the dispossessed class,” the Medardo Arce Command said.