MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reiterated its commitment to protecting human rights, in response to an Amnesty International report that government forces also committed abuses in Marawi.
AFP spokesman Major General Restituto Padilla said in a Malacañang news briefing on Friday, November 17, that soldiers accused of committing abuses will be investigated.
"We will investigate and discipline those found guilty of violating policies and regulations which includes IHL (international humanitarian law) and HR (human rights), he said.
Padilla said proof of this commitment is the decision of the AFP leadership to file looting charges against an army officer and 5 soldiers. He, however, could not give updates on cases or on other probes against soldiers.
He stressed that such cases are "isolated incidents" and that, in general, soldiers have "long been taught to respect and follow all the principles, especially in international humanitarian law and rules of conflict."
Both military chiefs involved in the Marawi conflict, former AFP chief Eduardo Año andhis successor, General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, had always ordered troops to respect human rights, said Padilla.
He urged citizens who witnessed abuses by soldiers to submit a formal complaint to the military to help expedite investigations.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, martial law administrator, previously said the government would apply the "full force of the law" on abusive soldiers.
Proportionality of force
The military spokesman also responded to the AI report's claim that the AFP launched "disproportionate air and ground attacks" that "wiped out entire neighborhoods and killed civilians."
Padilla asked the public to take into consideration the difficulties faced by government forces in Marawi. (READ: Marawi battle zone: Urban warfare challenges PH military)
"The proportionality by which we use force was in consideration of all the challenges that we face, which is one, the safety of civilians who may be trapped in the area, that's primordial; the rescue of the civilians who were held hostage, second; and only third is the safety of our own troops who were in the main battle area," he said.
Padilla also pointed to the military's rescue of 1,780 civilians.
Padilla was also asked if he felt allegations of the military's human rights abuses might be part of "propaganda."
He said, "Yes, we feel there is an effort to discredit the Armed Forces but the Armed Forces remains committed to properly fulfilling its tasks in Marawi."
Asked which group or groups could be behind the supposed smear campaign, Padilla said he has no basis to identify specific groups. "If it comes from fellow Filipinos who don't like what we are doing, we hope they remember the sacrifice of our soldiers," he said. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.