Friday, June 19, 2009

Soldiers threaten civilian lives by blocking food aid, burning houses in Maguindanao: AHRC

ISSUES: Internally displaced persons; right to life; right to food; right to housing; abuse of power.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to inform you that the Army's Sixth Infantry Division has intercepted food aid for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Maguindanao province. The reason the army has given intercepting the food is their claim of a bomb attack on the bridge connected to Datu Piang town on May 28. In addition, the army has also burned houses which they claim are being used by the rebels.

UPDATED INFORMATION: (According to information received from Mindanao People's Caucus (MPC).
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has reported in a previous hunger alert that the army is controlling and in some instances even preventing the distribution of food and relief supplies by the aid agencies for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Datu Piang, Maguindanao. Without any explanation, the army, at the military checkpoints, prevented truckloads of rice and relief goods from the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) from reaching the evacuees. Apart from being denied food, there were reports that the government army had burned the houses of some civilians in remote villages in the municipalities of Datu Piang in Maguindanao and in Midsayap, North Cotabato.

According to the updated information the AHRC received, the army explained that they did not burn houses of innocent civilians but rather the houses being used as shelter by the rebels. With regard to the blockade of the food supplies it has been confirmed that Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a spokesperson of the Army's Sixth Infantry Division, sent a text message to a priest trying to delivering one hundred bags of rice to the evacuees. His convoy was held up by the government soldiers on May 28. The text message read:

"For the moment, it is not advisable to deliver food rations for the IDPs because of what had happened yesterday [referring to a bomb that exploded in one of the bridges going to Datu Piang town on May 27]. This is also implemented to all other international donors."

The explanation for torching houses as well as food blockades given by the government army is nothing new. Since August 2008 when the latest outbreak of conflict between the government army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) happened, the survivors faced similar threats to life by arbitrary food blockades.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

At present, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) estimates that 48,000 families that include 240,000 persons are affected.

In October 2008, a group of journalists who conducted a fact-finding mission in five conflict affected areas in Mindanao reportedly discovered deaths at the IDP camps due to treatable diseases. Children have also died of diarrhea and malnutrition. In the present situation the number of deaths will be aggravated by the lack of food and hygienic water for drinking and washing and the food blockades.

In the Tripoli Agreement of 2001 (Agreement on peace between the government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front), paragraph 1 of section B on rehabilitation aspect states:

"The observance of international humanitarian law and respect for internationally recognized human rights instruments and the protection of evacuees and displaced persons in the conduct of their relations reinforce the Bangsamoro people’s fundamental right to determine their own future and political status."

The State's respect and obligation to the international law and aids is also stated in the government’s guideline in the Coordination of the Delivery of Humanitarian Services to Disaster Victims and Internally Displaced Persons, NDCC circular No. 17, series of 2008. It says that,

"On one hand, the people of the Philippines, represented by its government, appreciate the generosity of local and international aid organization, corporate and individual donors that augment government resources in providing humanitarian assistance during major disasters. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that the affected families and individuals have equal access to humanitarian assistance, basic goods, social services and relief intervention from all sources."

It also says that,

“Issues, complaints, reports of injustice or wrongdoing, accusations, criticisms or gripes about the on-going humanitarian efforts shall be addressed efficiently and effectively. All grievances should be addressed to the concerned regional DCC Disaster Response Coordination Desk. Grievance shall be acted within three (3) days receipt of the complaint. In any event that redress is not delivered satisfactorily, the complaint may be elevated to the Chair of the Humanitarian Task Force for resolution. Grievances may be sent in writing or given orally, or by e-mail to dromic_co@yahoo.com or by text message to cell phone No. 09184219780.”

However, forced disappearances extrajudicial killings, allegedly by soldiers threaten the IDPs so that they dare not complain against the soldiers.

The action of the army is contrary to the article 6 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stating that every human being has the inherent right to life. The blockade of to the IDPs is a lethal tool violating their right to life. The right to food ensuring right to life under a conflict is also guaranteed by the provisions of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID), to which the Philippine government is under obligation to implement and observe.

Principle 10 and 25 of the UNGPID clearly stipulates that "Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) shall be protected, in particular against starvation as a form of combat" and that the "authorities concerned shall grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the internally displaced" respectively.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to the concerned authorities below requesting them to immediately conduct an inquiry into the actions of the Sixth Infantry Division’s in the blockade of food to IDPs and the burning of the houses suspected to have been used by rebels. Please take note that these supplies should be immediately delivered to IDPs to ensure their right to life.

The AHRC has also written letters to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, on adequate housing, the representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, and the independent expert on minority issues for their appropriate intervention.



Dear __________,

Re: PHILIPPINES: Please immediately conduct an investigation into the actions of the Sixth Infantry Division regarding food blockades and burning of houses in Maguindanao

Affected families deprived of food supply: Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) coming from remote villages in the municipalities of Datu Piang and Talayan, all in Maguindanao
Alleged government authority: 6th Infantry Division (ID), Philippine Army.

I am writing to express my grave concern over the military’s action of blocking the distribution of food supplies and relief goods to over 34,000 families of IDPs in the municipality of Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

According to a reliable source, the government army explained that they did not burn the houses of civilians but rather the houses being used as shelter of the rebels.

With regard to the blockade of the food supplies it has been confirmed that Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a spokesperson of the Army's Sixth Infantry Division sent a text message to a priest trying to delivering one hundred bags of rice to the evacuees. His convoy was held up by the government soldiers on May 28. The text message read:

"For the moment, it is not advisable to deliver food rations for the IDPs because of what had happened yesterday [referring to a bomb that exploded in one of the bridges going to Datu Piang town on May 27]. This is also implemented to all other international donors."

The explanation for torching houses as well as food blockades given by the government army is nothing new. Since August 2008 when the latest outbreak of conflict between the government army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) happened, the survivors faced similar threats to life by arbitrary food blockades.

I am also aware that there is a mutual agreement and government guideline in order to protect fundamental right of human such as right to life including right to food and right to housing. I am of opinion that the government army has been using the arbitrary power to control food and goods supply is apparently against what the State promised to its citizen as well as to international society.

I have studied that the guideline (NDCC circular No. 17, series of 2008) apparently state the government's responsibility to ensure that the affected families and individuals have equal access to humanitarian assistance, basic goods, social services and relief intervention from all sources. Furthermore, it ensures that issues, complaints, reports of injustice or wrongdoing, accusations, criticisms or gripes about the on-going humanitarian efforts should be addressed to the concerned regional DCC Disaster Response Coordination Desk.

As we all are aware, the article 6 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stating that every human being has the inherent right to life. The food blockade for the IDPs is a lethal method violating the right to life. The right to food ensuring right to life under the conflict is also guaranteed by the provisions of the United National Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID), to which the Philippine government is under obligation to implement and observe.

I am of opinion that neither can the government army prove that which houses used by the rebels, nor they have a right to prevent the food and goods aids from reaching the IDPs living under threat to life. Rather, they have an obligation to domestic law and international law in order to protect citizen's right to life.

I therefore urge the concerned authorities to promptly investigate these incidents, in particular into the Army's Sixth Infantry Division. If it is proved that they arbitrarily made an order to prevent food supplies and committed it, appropriate legal action must be taken against these soldiers and their superiors responsible for carrying out these measures.

Also, I urge you to ensure that the complaint by the civilians regarding complaints on-going humanitarian efforts should be effectively conveyed and an immediate action should be taken.

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. Ms. Leila De Lima
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: chr.delima@yahoo.com or mtm_rodulfo@yahoo.com

3. Deputy Director General Jesus A. Verzosa
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. Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr.
Secretary
Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Building, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo,
E. de los Santos Avenue
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63(2) 911-9281 / 911-0488
Fax: +63(2) 911 6213
E-mail: osnd@philonline.com

5. Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano
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

6. Mr. Emilio Gonzalez
Deputy Ombudsman
Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military
and Other Law Enforcement Offices
3rd Floor, Ombudsman Bldg., Agham Road, Diliman
1104 Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 926 8747
Tel: +63 2 926 9032

7. Dr. Esperanza I. Cabral
Secretary
Department of Social Welfare and Development
DSWD Bldg., Constitution Hills, Batasan Complex,
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 931 8101 / 2 931 8107
Fax: +63 2 931 8191
E-mail: eicabral@dswd.gov.ph

8. Stephen L. Anderson
Country Director of World Food Programme
5/F JAKA 2 Building, 150 Legaspi St.
Legaspi Village, Makati City, Metro Manila
PHILIPPINES
Tel: + 63 2 750 2561 / 2 751 9166 / 2 894 2730
Fax: + 63 2 750 2562
E-mail: WFP.Manila@wfp.org


Huger Alert Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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