Wednesday, February 6, 2013

OPAPP: NPA Rebels Violated Human Rights

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Feb 6): OPAPP: NPA Rebels Violated Human Rights

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) has found that the New People’s Army (NPA) violated both the human rights and the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in killing eight civilians in Brgy. Puso La Castellana last Jan. 27.

Lawyer Jaime Arroyo, secretariat head of the OPAPP-Government of the Philippines Monitoring Committee, said that the NPA’s admission of the crime and the testimonies of the eye witnesses whom they interviewed in La Castellana yesterday would prove that the NPA indeed violated the human rights of civilians and the IHL.

Arroyo had conducted an investigation with OPAPP legal consultant, Norman Carreon and visited Brgy. Puso, La Castellana yesterday to talk to the survivors and families of the victims, as part of their documentation on the peace process.

"We came here upon learning of the ambush last Jan. 27. Two events that transpired confirmed our initial suspicion: the admission by the NPA in the local command that they are responsible for ambush; and the statements of the eye witnesses we interviewed saying the victims were shot at close range and the ambushers shouting "Mabuhay ang NPA (Long live, NPA!)," Arroyo said.

"This is an attack on civilians which is specifically prohibited under the International Humanitarian Law," he said.

The two lawyers also met with Governor Alfredo MaraƱon Jr. yesterday afternoon to also brief him of their findings in La Castellana. Accompanying them in their visit to the governor were Col. Oscar Lactao, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, Senior Supt. Celestino Guarra, acting Negros Occidental Police director, and the two injured policemen - PO2 Jeffrey Alvarez and PO3 Constantino Villegas.

When asked if their reports will be submitted to President Benigno Aquino III, Arroyo hinted it will. Another task is to spread awareness on Republic Act. No. 9851, approved in 2009, that upholds human rights and IHL. RA 9851 (Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity) punishes offenses against IHL because under the law, civilians are not supposed to be harmed by either party, Arroyo said.

This law is unique as it enables civilian victims to file charges against perpetrators by either side in the armed conflict, he added.

Arroyo said OPAPP has no active role in the filing of charges against violators of HR and IHL, they can only advise the civilians or local authorities (military and police) to file charges under this law. He said there’s not a widespread knowledge of RA 9158, even in Manila, thus it is seldom invoked for purposes of prosecution.

"We are not the DOJ (Department of Justice), we are not even the CHR (Commission on Human Rights) but we can supply the data in pursuing the case," Arroyo said.

"From our personal perspective, the more appropriate criminal charges would be under RA 9851 which punishes war crimes," he said.

"We have a very comprehensive and well-crafted law (RA 9158). There is a growing move to spread awareness of this law, It is apt for armed conflict," he added.

But Arroyo said OPAPP does not stand in the way of local authorities in their filing of charges, they only suggest if the authorities themselves would want to include it. He said there’s no problem if the police had already filed charges against the NPA. "They can upgrade of amend the complaint if they want," he said.

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