Rights group assails military for airstrike in Bukidnon village

Feb. 24, 2020

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A human rights group has assailed the reported February 18 airstrike launched by the military against a village in Bukidnon province, some 255 kilometers away from this city.

Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region, in a statement, criticized the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 403rd Infantry Brigade and 8th Infantry Battalion after launching an “indiscriminate aerial and ground strike” in Sitio Gabunan, Barangay Dumalaguing, Impasug-ong town.

Jay Apiag, secretary-general of Karapatan-SMR, pointed to a video posted on Facebook which captured the alleged aerial bombardment in the area. He said the airstrike “placed the lives of civilians in peril and violated the laws of war.”

Apiag cited a provision of the 1977 Additional Protocol 1, which states that “attacks by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects are prohibited.”

He added article 24 (3) of the 1923 Hague Rules of Air Warfare, which states that “the bombardment of cities, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings not in the immediate neighborhood of the operations of land forces is prohibited.”

Also, “in case where [military objectives] are so situated, that they cannot be bombarded without the indiscriminate bombardment of the civilian population, the aircraft must abstain from bombardment.

“AFP is getting brassier in espousing this method of air warfare without abiding and due consideration of the grave threat to the entire residing populace–a total disregard of its mandate on the obligatory instruction under the International Humanitarian Law,” Apiag said.

Armed clashes

Quoting from a local news report, Captain Rene Belmonte, spokesperson of 403rd IB confirmed that separate encounters erupted between the military troops and suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mt. Kalatungan and Barangay Dumalaguing the same day the aerial bombardment happened.

No casualties were reported on the military, while it is yet to be determined if there were any on the NPA’s side.

Around 21 families from Sitio Gabunan were evacuated. Classes were also suspended.

Apiag expressed outrage that “civilians and civilian properties are always subjected as targets, if not projected as collateral damage.”

On Monday (Feb.24), Davao Today reached out to Lt. Col. Ezra Balagtey of AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command for a comment on the alleged “rights violations.” He has not responded as of posting.

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