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Army in Pangantucan at ‘lumad’ request

12:00 AM February 03, 2016

The Philippine Army expresses its dismay over Carlos Conde’s commentary titled, “Illegitimate encounters” (Opinion, 1/28/16). Conde identified a number of alleged human rights victims and said, “how and why they died depends on whose account you believe.”

We find it hard to believe that our soldiers ordered a group of people in Pangantucan, Bukidnon, who were preparing for lunch, to leave their hut, then “shot and killed” on the spot a 70-year-old grandfather who at that time was raising his hands.

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The Philippine Army did a formal investigation on the issue; we were open to the public on this matter. The police did the same. The National Bureau of Investigation was also directed by the Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation. The Senate, as we all know, went to Mindanao, and did its own inquiry.

In the end, all evidence and accounts about the case revealed that there was really a legitimate encounter. This Conde did not mention.

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If the results of the investigations gave us a reason to believe that Conde’s version of facts was true, then the Army could have acted differently. The Army has already put in place a number of “concrete steps” within our organization to address issues relative to human rights, international humanitarian law and the rule of law. In such issues, facts and evidence are needed, not elements of drama nor a story crafted from figments of someone’s imagination.

Conde cited abuses involving other lumad in Davao del Norte and Surigao del Sur, allegedly perpetrated by paramilitary forces. Again, Conde linked all these to the military; we vehemently deny this. What Conde forgot to mention was the possibility that these incidents happened because of cultural conflicts and, more importantly, that these “paramilitary forces” were organized by the lumad themselves to secure their communities against the New People’s Army. Without considering this possibility, Conde unfairly concluded that this is “reflects a deeply rooted culture of impunity for military abuses in the Philippines.”

Conde also wrote that there is “strong evidence” linking an Army soldier to the killing of Endric Calago, a leader of the leftist peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and Rosalie Calago, a barangay health worker, in Negros Oriental sometime in May 2015. If only Conde did a simple online research on the issue, he would have learned that the Leonardo Panaligan Command of the NPA claimed responsibility in the killing of the Calago couple who had left the organization in frustration.

But Conde was right: The military “has a legal obligation to do better” in terms of addressing these issues. We would like to inform Conde: the Army aspire to achieve not just to do better but to do the best. In fact, the Army has already done a lot toward this end. Our records in the Commission on Human Rights, which are open to the public, can vouch for this.

Lastly, Conde was correct: The Army is still in Pangantucan, Bukidnon, staying in a multipurpose hall. The local authorities, tribal leaders and the majority of the community members gave us that area because they want the Army to stay. Only the NPA and their cohorts want us out of the place.

—COL. BENJAMIN L. HAO, army chief public affairs, Office of the Army Chief Public Affairs, [email protected]

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TAGS: Army, Bukidnon, Carlos Conde, Lumad, Pangantucan
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