Thursday, February 17, 2011

Philippine military launches probe into soldiers' brutal attacks on civilians

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 17, 2011) – The Philippine military launched an investigation Thursday into a video uploaded on the social networking site Facebook where it showed soldiers beating up four men whose faces were covered and hands tied behind their back.

The video was believed taken by one of the soldiers from a cell phone and it showed about a dozen troops at a coconut farm taking turns in punching and kicking the still unidentified men as they lay helpless.

Some of the victims were crying and begging the soldiers to stop the beatings, but it continued more with some of them threatening to execute the four men. It was unknown whether the men were civilians or rebels, but security officials who watched the clip said the video was probably taken between 2008 and 2009 in Basilan province, south of Zamboanga City, because of its familiar topography.

Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, three of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, are where most of the marine forces are currently stationed.

But it was not immediately known when the video was taken and whether the four men had been killed by the soldiers. The clip ran for almost 2 minutes and can be accessed on this URL

“Let’s bring them all and then kill them later because if we kill them now it will be difficult for us to carry (the bodies of) these sons of bitches,” said one soldier.

Two soldiers also kicked one of the men on the face after he was told to stand up, but he could hardly walk because of the beatings. “Walk you animal, walk,” one soldier shouted at the man, whose face was covered with a hood just like the others.

The video clip drew harsh criticism from those who watched it on Facebook.

“This is how the AFP and PNP serve the country,” one comment said, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

One of those who watched the clip could not believe the video and said it could be propaganda of leftist organizations and communist rebels. But was quick to say that if the video was genuine, "then the soldiers must be punished."

The Armed Forces of the Philippines headed by Lieutenant General Ricardo David has ordered a thorough investigation into the incident and that Army Colonel Domingo Tutaan, head of its new Human Rights Office, who viewed the clip, has already launched a detailed inquiry into it.

“As soon as I have heard the news about the video clip, I have directed the Philippine Navy human rights officers to conduct an inquiry and a thorough investigation to determine the veracity of the video and identify the soldiers, their unit and when and where this was committed and the commanders of said unit,” said Tutaan, who was appointed last year by President Benigno Aquino as head of the AFP Human Rights Office.

In an interview with the Mindanao Examiner, Tutaan said: “The intent of the investigation is to determine the culpability of soldiers and if there is culpability, we will file immediately a case in accordance with the military justice system and to cooperate with local enforcement agencies for filing of criminal charges. Respect for human rights of every citizen is our primordial concern.”

He said the AFP also wanted to determine what happened to the four men and their whereabouts. “We want to determine all these things so we can extend assistance to them. We want to extend them legal assistance too,” Tutaan, a known hard-core human rights defender, said.

Captain Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, a spokesman for the Philippine Navy which has control over the Marine forces, said the video was viewed by senior military officials and that an investigation was launched to identify the soldiers in the video.

“The Flag Officer in Command of the Philippine Navy (Rear Admiral Alexander Pama) has directed the Naval Inspector General to conduct formal investigation to ferret out the truth relative to that video that was uploaded in that Facebook for further appropriate actions as results would warrant,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said the Philippine Marine Corps is also in the process of determining the authenticity of the contents of the video. “If found authentic, the Philippine Marine Corps will conduct an investigation to identify the personnel involve and the extent of their culpability,” the spokesman said.

“In support to the AFP human rights advocacy, the Philippine Navy leadership assures that adherence to the rule of law and respect to Human Rights is our paramount concern in every operation,” he added.

The Department of National Defense also mounted its own investigation after senior officials watched the video clip, according to an aide of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. “Secretary Gazmin who watched the video clip is angry about these abuses by soldiers and he has ordered an investigation into it,” the aide said.

The Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, reported that hundreds of leftist politicians, political activists, journalists, and outspoken clergy have been killed or abducted since 2001 – the time that President Gloria Arroyo rose from power after deposing President Joseph Estrada in a military-backed, people-power revolution.

Most of the killings had been blamed to the military, but so far only 11 people have been convicted for these extrajudicial killings, two in 2009. No member of the military active at the time of the killing has been brought to justice for such crimes.

In an April 2009 follow-up report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston observed that while the Arroyo government has taken some steps to address extrajudicial killings, it fails to implement needed reforms such as institutionalizing the principle of command responsibility.

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