|Video of soldiers torturing captives riles Filipinos on Facebook|
|Written by Ina Alleco R. Silverio|
|Sunday, 27 February 2011 10:04|
A week ago, a video showing members of the military torturing what appeared to be civilians hogtied and blindfolded shocked the Facebook community in the Philippines. Four civilians were shown curled in fetal position on open, grassy ground strewn with coconut husks.
Lasting one minute and 53 seconds, the video showed soldiers in full uniform and bearing long firearms alternately kicking and stomping on the civilians’ abdomens and backs as they lay curled on the ground. The civilians could be heard moaning as blows landed on their bodies and the soldiers cursed at them. One of the civilians was hauled upright, and perhaps because of the pain he suffered from the blows, was unable to stand up straight. His inability to obey the soldier’s exhortations that he stand up prompted the soldiers to punch him repeatedly.
As the soldiers continued to inflict torture on their victims, they could be heard saying “Dalhin na mga yan, mahirap katayin yan dito,” “Wag mong anuhin yan, suntok lang!” and “Maglakad ka, animal ka!” “Gago ka!”
The video which appeared to have been shot with a camera phone was widely circulated on Facebook and those who viewed and forwarded it to their contacts expressed shock and outrage. Many denounced the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as human-rights violators, while others simply commented how difficult it is to look at the video and not cry with anger.
The video has also apparently reached the attention of the AFP leadership. Last weekend, officials said military investigators were already checking the identities of the uniformed men.
AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta said the military establishment felt concerned about the video. “We have said that we will not do these abuses, then we see it right in our faces. We want to know when and where it happened — if it actually happened,” Mabanta said in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
Col. Domingo Tutaan, who heads the AFP’s human-rights office, said they will also try to find out what happened to the supposed victims. He said their investigation is aimed at determining the culpability of the soldiers if and when there is culpability. “We will file immediately a case in accordance with the military justice system,” he said.
Navy spokesperson Capt. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said the soldiers in the video were wearing uniforms that were issued to the Philippine Marines three or four years ago.
Agence France-Presse reporter Mynardo A. Macaraig sent a request to the Facebook user who posted the video, named Bautista Peter John, to give more details regarding the video and where it was shot, when and by whom, but Bautista apparently did not provide more information after promising to do so.
The video prompted many comments, among them throwing accusations regarding the corruption in the AFP, “Kawawang mga kababayan natin inosenting pubre nakakahiyang AFP/PNP wala sa kalingking ang acusasyon nila sa mga kurakot na matataas na opisyal ngayon ipakita nila ang tapang nila sa pag tugis ng mga bulok na sistema ng pamamalakad sa ng namomono sa militar . NAKAKAHIYA!!!!!!”
Another Facebook user said, ”Di ko kayang tingnan, kahit larawan lang ng mga kaawa awang tao, na walang kasalanan… wag naman nating ipakita ito,napakasakiiit!!! itigil na ang walang dahilang pagpatay sa ating mga mahal na kababayan na kapwa pilipino…”
There were also comments who denounced the video as pure fabrication or “propaganda,” “Let’s be fair and square and lets not conclude immediately I for one had observed the Military and the NPA [New People's Army] at close range and i know for a fact na parehas ang mga yan na may mga kalokohan pero wala pa rin nagsasabi until now kung ang video na to ay totoo or just a propaganda video.”
In any case, the appearance and circulation of the video has in the meantime opened discussions on how the AFP treats civilians or prisoners of war. A comment on Facebook made the query, “Kung ganyan tratuhin ng mga sundalo ang mga sibilyan na halata naming walang kalaban-laban, paano kayo nila tratuhin ang mga nahuhuli nilang NPA o MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] members? Paano kung suspected supporters lang? Nakakangilabot!”
Observers said that, if the video was anything to go by, the AFP treats its POWs (prisoners of war) much, much worse than it does civilians.
A few days after the video came out, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Mindanao released a statement congratulating the NPA in the Southern Mindanao Region , particularly those of the Conrado Heredia Command-Front 20, the Front 25 Operations Command and the Wilfredo Zapanta Command-Front 18, for having carried out the speedy and safe release of three war prisoners.
The three POWs, PO3 Jorge Sabatin, Pfc. El Bryan Cañedo and PO2 Jerwel Montecillo Tugade, were released on three separate occasions. Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, NDFP-Mindanao spokesperson, said that all three POWs were treated well.
The previous week, the NPA in Southern Mindanao also released an army sergeant after clearing him of “counter-revolutionary” activities. The Herminio Alfonso Command-Front 53 Operations Command of the NPA in Davao released Sgt. Mario Veluz after nine days.
No reports came out wherein the former POWs decried how they were treated by the NPA.
A pamphlet on prisoners of war
Both the AFP and the NPA declared their adherence to Protocol II of the Geneva Convention; international humanitarian law (IHL); and the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl) that was signed by the Philippine government (GRP) and the NDFP in 1998. In the meantime, the NPA has its own ‘Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention.’
The issue of prisoners of war is particularly covered by the Carhrihl.
Sometime last year, the Human Rights Monitoring Committee of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP-MC) in the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the Philippine government and the NDFP released a pamphlet on the matter of POWs.
It included statements and press releases concerning the capture of military POWs by the NPA, as well as a table containing a list of POWs of the NPA in the last two decades. The primary message that can be gleaned from the publication was that the NPA‘s treatment of its prisoners is just and humane. The NPA, the publication said, treats its POWs with kindness. In all the cases included in this book, the rights of the POWs were recognized and respected by their NPA captors.
The pamphlet released by the NDFP-MC contains summaries of POW cases.
Before his capture, P/Insp. Rex Cuntapay believed that the NPA skinned the faces of their prisoners. He also thought that the NPA killed without reason. Three months after his capture and upon his release, he admitted he was wrong.
“That changed when I was held as a POW. I saw that they are principled people, I saw that they follow the agreement between the NDFP and the GRP, which is called the Carhrihl,” Cuntapay said.
Former POW Neptune Elequin said that even during his captivity, he was confident that he would regain his freedom because the NPA respects human rights. During the turnover ceremony that led to his release, he testified as to the kind of treatment he received.
“I was treated well. I did not suffer even a pinch. What the comrades ate I also had,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Victor Obillo, in a Manila Times report published in April 17, 1999, was quoted as saying that his captors treated him well, “I could not have asked for more.”
Former POW Sgt. Ramiro G. Lawas even said that he was grateful to the NPA for being kind to him.
“They treated me well and never laid a hand on me,” he said in Visayan dialect during an interview with members of the press. “They treated me not as an enemy, but almost like a fellow guerilla. They treated my wounds. Their behavior was so different from the behavior of my fellow soldiers in the military.”
Lawas shared that he was allowed to move freely around the NPA camp and share experiences with the red fighters. He was even allowed to keep three pet birds. When he developed allergies from eating dried fish and sardines, the usual staple of the guerrillas, he was given corned beef and other suitable canned goods. Once in a while, they would have meat from deer and wild pig. He even had a regular supply of juice and chocolate malt drink; and occasionally he enjoyed a bottle of soda.
“They fed me, gave me lectures on my rights,” Lawas said.
Former POW and CAFGU Eduardo Raya also said that he was treated well. “They did not harass me, they even fed me well, bathed me, and gave me lectures on my rights and violations.”
Cuntapay and his fellow ex-POWs, PO1 Marvin Agasen and PO1 Alberto Umali, in the meantime said there was not a single incident wherein their custodians hurt or threatened them. Agasen said the NPA recognized their rights as humans. They also shared that their nearly three months in the guerrillas’ custody gave them insight into why groups like the NPA exist.
“They wanted equality. They are fighting for the peasantry, the poor,” Umali said.
The GRP has historically taken a hardline stance against negotiating for the release of POWs in the custody of the revolutionary forces. In some instances, it has even denied the existence of POWs and instead accused the revolutionary forces of kidnapping. This is a clear attempt to criminalize the revolutionary forces by charging them of common crimes and dismiss the political implications and worth of the issue of POWs. Instead of entering negotiations, the GRP often demands that unconditional release of POWs in the care of the NPA.
What is worse is that to ensure that no negotiations for the release of the NPA’s POWs takes place, the GRP sometimes launches intense military operations in the areas where the POWs are believed to be held; or launches rescue operations that directly endanger the security and safety of the POWs.
Police Chief Inspector Abelardo Martin was captured by the NPA’s Apolonio Mendoza Command on December 3, 1999, after a raid of the police station which he headed in Dolores, Quezon province.
Because of initial GRP refusal to negotiate and to implement a suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO), Martin’s release was delayed until his captivity reached 16 months.
From the onset, the NPA had expressed its readiness to release Martin but the GRP refused to negotiate. For the more than one year that Martin spent in the custody of the NPA, he experienced humane and lenient treatment. In the last months of his captivity, Martin was allowed to freely mingle with the masses in the barrio. He was also often seen jogging along the seashore and bathing in the sea. He was also given medical attention: a cataract in one of his eyes was surgically removed by NPA medics.
Martin was killed in a disastrous rescue operation by the PNP. bulatlat.com
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