Civilians have reportedly fallen victim to abuses allegedly perpetrated by government forces implementing martial law in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao. A fact-finding mission composed of local and international civil society organizations claimed that they found evidence proving alleged abuses in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental provinces. Among the cases documented by the investigation were 54 cases of killings, torture, illegal arrest and detention, harassment
, intimidation and illegal search and seizures. Opposition congressman Carlos Zarate said human rights violations have intensified during martial law in Mindanao. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law
across the region following an attack on the city of Marawi by Islamic State-inspired gunmen in May last year. The ensuing five-month battle to retake the city displaced about 400,000 families and killed more than 1,000 people. Zarate, however, said martial law has caused a "blanket of repression by elements of the military and police against civilians." The investigative team found among the alleged abuses
was the killing of Aniceto Lopez Jr., who reportedly died at the hands of Philippine Marines. Days before his killing in the town of Quezon in Bukidnon province on Jan. 22, soldiers tagged the victim as a guerrilla of the communist-led New People's Army. Winnie Loable of the Philippine Peasants Movement said farmers and tribal people, especially in the hinterlands, have become targets of the government's anti-insurgency campaign. "They are labeled as rebels and subjected to trumped-up cases charges because of their participation in land struggles and affiliation to peasant organizations," said Loable. Cathy Estavillo, secretary-general of the National Federation of Peasant Women, said charges filed against farmers also affect families of the victims. "Husbands stop working on the farm in fear of being arrested. As a result, mothers are forced to bear the burden of providing for the family," said Estavillo. Lieutenant Tere Ingente, spokesman for the army's 4th Infantry Division in the region, said victims of the alleged violations should file formal complaints to the authorities. He said the military will not tolerate abusive personnel.
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Human rights group Karapatan, meanwhile, reported that policemen and soldiers harassed participants of the fact-finding mission. Cristina Palabay of Karapatan said there was a "widespread presence of soldiers in the streets and communities" while "suspicious-looking men" took pictures of the mission participants. She said the "dirty tricks" against the mission "have all the more exposed the lies" behind the government claims that there were no human rights violations in Mindanao under martial law. "Unless repressive policies are revoked, any change in the leadership of the [military and police] will have no real effect in making the human rights situation on the ground any better," Palabay said. The fact-finding mission is expected to submit its findings to the government as well as to local and international human rights bodies.