Philippine military kills three tribesmen in Mindanao

Rights groups say army operation was 'massacre' of innocent civilians
Philippine army troops have killed three tribesmen in a rural village in Mindanao in what officials are calling a “legitimate encounter” with communist rebels. Rights groups, however, say the three men were innocent civilians executed in a “coldblooded massacre”.

Datu Ruben Enlog and his companions, Garyo Quimbo and Randy Carnasa, died after being shot in the remote district of Paquibato in Davao City, according to army officials. Lt Vergel Lacambra, spokesman of the Army's 10th Infantry Division, told media that the three men were members of the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Military reports said the incident happened in the early hours of Sunday, when members of the 69th Infantry Battalion of the Army's 10th Infantry Division encountered suspected communist rebels in Paradise Embac village in Davao City’s hinterland.

Military officials announced the deaths on Monday, displaying explosives and an M-14 rifle as evidence of the men’s connections to the NPA.

Human rights groups and families of the victims, however, said the three men were innocent civilians who were attending a birthday dinner at the house of Aida Seisa, a village leader who has been vocal in criticizing alleged military abuses. Seisa and her husband survived the incident unscathed but their 14-year-old daughter was wounded.

Josefina Enlog, whose husband Datu Ruben Enlog was killed, said her husband was a farmer, not a rebel. She said he was chairman of Nagkalupa, an advocacy group of local farmers that has been active in opposing mining companies and large plantations in the area, as well as condemning perceived human rights violations committed during military operations against communist rebels.

"[The military] did not like his progressive ideas," Josefina said, adding that the military's allegation that her husband was a rebel was "an attempt to legitimize the crime”.

Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the tribal federation Katribu, said the three dead men were civilian farmers and indigenous community leaders who were “legitimately defending their ancestral lands against destructive projects”.

The military’s claims that the men were rebels were “all lies”.

"This is not the first time that military units use the same alibi whenever they kill civilians during military operations," she said, citing several past cases.

Rights groups say mining companies have pending applications for gold, silver and copper mines covering almost 15,000 hectares in Paquibato district, where the killings took place.

Hinamay Suazo, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan in the southern Mindanao region, called the killings a "coldblooded massacre". She said the farmers have been protesting soldiers’ occupation of public facilities and civilian homes in the district.

Lacambra, the army spokesman, however, defended the military’s action and said that rights groups are "only looking for angles to blame the military for what happened".

Members of the city council of Davao told that they would look into the incident.

"We want to ferret out the truth behind this grisly incident," said Leah Librado, a member of the city council.

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