ENRAGED was how I felt after reading through the Resolution of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regarding the case our family filed with the said body against the AFP unit responsible for the brutal slaying of my husband AJ, violating Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
It took a few weeks for me to calm down and compose myself so I can come up with this rejoinder. The said document triggered emotions and memories from the fateful day when I learned about the unusual circumstances of AJ’s death.
It took the CHR one and a half years to come up with their findings on the case and it is disheartening that after awaiting that long, all that the said body did was just to iterate what was contained in the counter-affidavit submitted to their office by the AFP and uphold the position of the latter. There is nothing in the CHR Resolution which presented that their office made efforts to do their own independent investigation.
The CHR-CAR instead just issued a copy of the NBI-CAR Autopsy Report to the CHR Forensic Center in Diliman Quezon City for “further interpretation” wherein the latter body inferred: “Upon careful perusal of the said report, out of five (5) entries, only entry number one (1) which is located at the back of the chest is inflicted at close range which is near contact, not more than 6 inches. Unfortunately for the victim, this is very fatal since it involves the heart and lungs. No amount of resuscitation could have save the victim or he could not even reached the hospital alive.”
It is daunting that the CHR had put a different slant to this statement shrugging off the supposition of NBI-CAR, when it should have boosted their findings.
The CHR pronounced: “It is relevant to consider that AJ died in the middle of or as a result of armed encounter between his group which alleged to be part of the NPA and the 41st IB, 5ID”. A renowned forensic expert which we consulted about the findings of the NBI-CAR declared with certainty that the injuries sustained by AJ and his other comrades were “non-encounter” wounds. NBI-CAR reported that besides what they considered as the fatal shot fired at close range at AJ’s back, he suffered multiple gunshot wounds on his back and lower extremities. His arms were riddled with bullets down to his wrists and thumbs… his internal organs macerated, and his body appeared porous like a sponge. There was also massive laceration of his upper lip, that his upper and lower jaws were fractured, shattering both jaws inward into his throat. The doctor who performed the autopsy procedure believed that there was excessive use of force considering the numerous wounds that AJ sustained all over his body. But the CHR never even considered this fact. Instead they upheld without qualms the military statement on the matter that it was a legitimate encounter and that they followed what to them was necessary.
The AFP stated that: “In legitimate armed engagements, the gravity or number of gunshot wounds to be inflicted could not be controlled as you have to counter or fight back to survive for self-preservation and also to defend one’s self”. It is no wonder that the AFP troops were trigger-happy during their September 2014 operations in Lacub even going to the extent of violating rules of engagement in war because of this belief. It is not surprizing that AJ and the rest of his comrades were mercilessly slain and their bodies desecrated by the 41st IB because to them that was necessary.
The CHR further suggested that it is not certain where the source of the fatal shot that hit AJ came from saying: “Although it is the army that was the enemy of AJ’s group at that time, it does not mean that it was only them that can hit AJ or have the exclusive capability to kill and cause serious gunshot wounds on AJ. How about the civilian/s who died of gunshot wound who have no particular enemy? Who do we suspect were the culprits? It can be the NPA or the military”. Now CHR is also insinuating that it was AJ’s comrades who may have killed him and so with the slain civilians. This manner of distorted thinking by the CHR is definitely the AFP’s.
The CHR completely stripped themselves off their façade and further revealed their true character and bias even becoming the apologist of the AFP when their lawyer, Atty. Lyndon Morales echoed the AFP line stating that “We observe that respondent’s military operation at Sito Kiboot, Guinguinabang, Lacub, Abra was well-planned as it was preceded by reports about the presence of NPA remnants in the said place. Before they implemented their operation (OPORD 07-14), respondents and their elements have undergone a Sustainment Training in Tumalip, Baay-Licuan, Abra where lecture on relevant topics including Military Tactics, Rules of Engagement, IHL, Human Rights and First Aide were made.”
The statements, both by the CHR and the AFP stand paradoxical and absurd as the actions of the state military contradicted what they had professed to have learned and upheld. The AFP troops as indicated in the NBI report and testimonies from the Fact Finding Missions held after the military operations in the area provide proof that the 41st IB PA committed grave violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL). During the military operations in Lacub, state troops took Engr. Del Salvador, (a civilian who incidentally was monitoring projects in the area during that time) whose body was later found revealing signs of torture. They also endangered lives of civilians when they made twenty-four (24) locals into human shields, and in fact one of them, Noel Viste, whom the military used as a guide got killed in the process. The autopsy report done by NBI-CAR on another slain comrade of AJ, Recca Noel Monte did not have a single gunshot wound but the report showed that she died from “blunt traumatic injuries, massive, head, face and chest.” Even the principle of applying first aide to combatants were violated when they captured AJ alive. Instead of treating him with care and considering him as a prisoner of war, they pitilessly killed him. What then is the military talking about when it said that “The 41stIB were well briefed on the rules of engagement, observance of human rights and provisions of international humanitarian law before the conduct of the military operation in Lacub, Abra”?
In its closing statement, the CHR declared: “It is very unfortunate that aside from the NBI-CAR Autopsy Report, there were no evidence submitted or gathered to support the claim that AJ was shot at close range and that the perpetrators thereof were the elements of the 41st IB, 5ID, PA. The said report failed to indicate the type of firearm/s that was/were based on the gunshot wounds on AJ’s body for possible comparison. There were also no witnesses from the military or NPA who survived the encounter and could shed light on what happened if not identify AJ’s killers. The killing of AJ happened in such a manner and place that evidence is very difficult to obtain. WHEREFORE, in light of all the above, this case is hereby terminated”.
It dismays me that our family even considered filing a case with the CHR. After the malevolent insinuations we got from their report one and a half years from the date we filed the case for them to investigate the case, they are now giving us back the burden of presenting more proof to back our claim. If they genuinely wanted the truth to come out, then they should have conducted an independent investigation because that was in the first place supposed to be their JOB in the CHR. And if they did, they would have found out that there was a survivor of the incident even if it was on the side of AJ’s camp. The survivor clearly narrated the whole incident as it happened. AJ was alive when the AFP troops took him and instead of applying the rules of engagement in war when they heard him saying “hindi na dapat ninyo binabaril ang sugatan”, they did not and in their actual conduct, it was rightful for them to just kill him and kill him mercilessly because he was their enemy.
The CHR stated in their cover letter that I may file for a MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION with their regional office within 15 days from receipt of the document, but after reading their position on the matter, I decided not to entrust the case with them anymore because of their evident partiality favouring the state’s military. LET US BE WARY OF WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING!
Our family filed a similar complaint in Congress and we are deeply grateful to AJ’s friend Hon. Congressman Christopher “Kit” Belmonte and the progressive members of the House of Representatives under the Makabayan Block for seriously taking on the case of AJ and the other victims of HR and IHL violations by the AFP in Lacub, Abra. Even if the Resolution is just for an investigation in aid of legislation, it will at least put war crimes especially that of state forces in their proper place.
Now that it is again the period of elections, we challenge those who are running for electoral positions to seriously carry in their platform the agenda for genuine peace for our country including respect for human rights and of international humanitarian law. We call on the next administration to be sincere in their peace efforts and to immediately resume the peace negotiations, once in office, with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and uphold the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
We may not achieve justice for AJ under the present administration of Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III especially that it is precisely his policy why state security forces have been dreadfully reigning the countryside like what happened in Kidapawan and what had befallen the villages of our Lumad brothers and sisters in Mindanao. Like in Lacub, Abra, state security forces are there protecting the interests of big businesses such as mining corporations at the expense of our people fighting to protect their land and resources and going against these government sanctioned destructive projects. The conditions of the majority of our people being deprived, oppressed and marginalized make it ripe for the civil war in our country to ensue. These are bases why people like AJ take up arms as they seek to dismantle the unjust system being perpetuated by a few and aspire for an alternative that would truly uphold and protect the interest of the majority.
For as long as the fundamental problems in our society are not addressed, people like AJ will continue to flourish and find meaningful solutions to address the root causes of the civil war in our country.
The state agents may have killed AJ, but his memory lives among the people he greatly served. We are assured that his spirit lives on and continue to inspire others to carry on the struggle towards genuine social change.
Justice for AJ, Justice for Lacub!
Punish perpetrators of war crimes! Uphold International Humanitarian Law!
Resume the Peace Talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front!
Carry forward the struggle for genuine social transformation.
For Reference:
Cynthia D. Jaramillo