Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila
Updated: June 18, 2021 09:03 AM GMT
Philippine troops are seen here in this file photo during a military operation in Mindanao. (Photo: Mark Navales)
Church and rights groups in the Philippines have condemned the killing of three indigenous people, one of them a 12-year-old girl, during a military operation in the southern Mindanao region.
The victims, members of the Lumad-Manobo tribe, were allegedly shot dead by soldiers conducting an operation on June 15 to arrest suspected communist rebels in Surigao del Sur province.
The military claimed the three were armed and opened fire on the soldiers before being shot dead.
Human rights group Karapatan, however, said the three were innocent farmers and the victims of a “massacre.”
“We condemn in the strongest terms this latest massacre … how many more will Duterte’s state forces kill and kill? This is the 25th massacre under Duterte’s counterinsurgency campaign, with victims killed en masse and with no mercy,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said in a June 16 statement.
The group claimed its own investigation revealed that soldiers fired on a group of six farmers while they were harvesting crops on their farm. Three were killed while the others ran for safety.
They look upon the Lumad [indigenous] people as hunted prey, lie through their teeth and falsely label victims as members of the New People’s Army
“The perpetrators are mad killers with clearly no respect for life and rights. They look upon the Lumad [indigenous] people as hunted prey, lie through their teeth and falsely label victims as members of the New People’s Army,” Palabay added.
The New People’s Army is the armed wing of the Philippines’ Communist Party
According to Karapatan, 121 people have now died in the 25 massacres it says have been committed by soldiers during the Duterte administration. All of the victims were tagged as terrorists, the group said.
“These killings should be met with the strongest condemnation possible,” Palabay said.
The Catholic Church’s social action arm Caritas called the killings “inhuman which degraded the dignity of the human person.”
“If the victims did not fire at the army, regardless of whether they were communists, they must be afforded a day in court because they have rights protected by the constitution. They are still Filipino citizens that had rights,” Father Jeof Garido, head of Caritas in Legaspi Diocese, told UCA News.
He urged the military to conduct a thorough investigation to check who was at fault and who should be accountable for the killings.
“Let us all be bearers of justice and peace. There can be no peace without justice. Let us allow a balanced investigation to restore the credibility of these enforcers who have been dubbed violators of human rights,” Father Garido added.