MANILA, Philippines – Senior military generals were attending a command conference at the general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, when then Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Emmanuel Bautista asked a few of them to watch a video.
On an iPad, the generals watched armed men in military uniform kick a man and step on his head before they fired their M16s at him. (READ: Caught on video: 'Soldiers' shoot man in cold blood)
They were shocked, according to one of the officers who watched the video with them. They said: "Ano yan? Bakit ganoon? Dapat parusahan ang mga iyan.” (What is that? Why did that happen? They should be punished.)
Rappler interviewed AFP spokesperson Major General Domingo Tutaan on Friday, August 1, about the video. He said Bautista saw the video on July 7 and immediately ordered an investigation to determine when it happened, where it happened, and if the men involved are indeed from the Philippine Army.
“We were really astonished,” said Tutaan, who was also a former chief of the AFP Human Rights Office. He said human rights violations were clearly committed although he refused to confirm that the men responsible were government troops – pending the result of the investigation.
"Granting that he is an adversary, still he is a person. He is entitled to his rights as a human being and the dignity of a person. He is entitled to that. That is why when we saw that we were really bothered. We were really concerned about it. This cannot be condoned. We are looking into everything,” said Tutaan.
Western Mindanao Command
The AFP happened to be holding a command conference when an officer showed Bautista the video. He called senior officers during a break and they watched the video together at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club (AFPCOC) inside Camp Aguinaldo.
Among those who watched the video with General Bautista were then acting Army chief Major Romulo Cabantac, now AFP Human Rights Office chief Colonel Jose Antonio Motril, and the current commander of the military unit in question, the Army’s 601st Brigade chief Brigadier General Edmundo Pangilian.
"After viewing and discussing it, an investigation was initiated. It is now Colonel Motril who is initiating the investigation on this. Of course, the Philippine Army is also involved because it's the Army [that may be responsible]," Tutaan said.
A representative of the Communications, Electronics, and Informations Systems was also called to assist the Human Rights Office in the probe.
A month since the July 7 command conference, the investigation is unfinished. Bautista retired on July 18, 2014, and turned over command to new AFP chief of staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.
Motril said they have narrowed down their probe to the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom). Motril confirmed that patches of the 6th Infantry Division were seen on the soldiers, although he said anyone can buy these patches.
“We haven’t officially received reports from lower AFP units on the video’s authenticity. We asked for investigation on the circumstances in the video from the Western Mindanao Command and the Army,” Motril said.
“If they are soldiers, they must be investigated, cases should be filed, and due punishment must be meted,” Motril added.
Tutaan gave an assurance Catapang has been monitoring the probe.
The video apparently circulated among MILF members last month, prompting the group to conduct its own investigation. The MILF believes it’s a new video taken after the June 10 military operation against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao.
But Tutaan said they believe the video is several years old. "We don't really know what place. We believe it was sometime in 2008 or 2009. Kasi matagal na iyan e. Lumabas na iyan before (It’s old. It came out before [in the Internet]),” said Tutaan.
Motril said they have yet to confirm that they are soldiers. “Video shows armed persons in various military and civilian attire, which the AFP does not sport,” he said. He said there are other details in the video that they are investigating.
But at least two officers who have seen the video told Rappler they believe the men in the video are soldiers. They also said it was probably taken in 2008 or 2009. Talk in military circles points to retaliatory action after an incident where soldiers were supposedly kidnapped and then beheaded.
A Google search shows several incidents of beheading of soldiers in Western Mindanao in 2008 and 2009.
One officer said the bandoliers – the pocketed belt for holding ammunition – are a supposed giveaway. Those were reportedly issued during the time of AFP chief General Hermogenes Esperon, who served from 2006 to 2008 under the Arroyo administration. New bandoliers were supposedly issued beginning 2008, although others still probably used the old ones until 2009.
But there is no excuse for the human rights violations, they acknowledged.
Tutaan said that if probers ultimately find out that soldiers were the ones who fired those shots, they would be accused of the following violations:
Determining the year the video was taken is apparently crucial. If the video was taken in 2008 and the perpetrators are soldiers, Tutaan said they may not be liable under IHL law and the IPSP Bayanihan which were put in place in 2009.
But Tutaan said they are definitely violations of the AFP rules of engagement. “Regardless of date, rules of engagement can suffice,” he said.
“If you look at the video, they shot the man. Under the Revised Penal Code, that can be murder. But then again we do not want to hit anybody openly [until we’ve determined who are the people invovled],” he said. – Rappler.com