Shot in the forehead and an eye missing, one of eight victims killed by soldiers in Sulu province. Below, Muslims protest the killings in Sulu. (Photo by Area Coordinating Center, Sulu Provincial Government)
MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 29, 2008) - The Children’s Rehabilitation Center criticized the Armed Forces of the Philippines Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO) for exonerating the soldiers involved in the massacre of civilians, including 2 children and a pregnant woman, in Sulu province early this month.
“The AFP has done it again. It has used its usual excuse of “legitimate encounter” to escape accountability over the loss of civilian lives during military operations,” Ma. Esmeralda Macaspac, Executive Director of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center, said in a statement.
Macaspac also said that operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group have become a convenient excuse whenever human rights violations are committed against civilians in Mindanao, particularly in Muslim areas. “They disregard the damage to lives, limbs and property. They even disregard the findings of investigations by human rights groups and even the Commission on Human Rights.”
She said the exoneration of the soldiers was a move to prevent further antagonizing the soldiers in the midst of rumours of military unrest.
“The last thing that the Arroyo government needs right now, especially with a fragmented military, is to further rock the boat. This further shows that at whatever cost, they will trudge any path just to appease the military men and keep themselves in power. And this they do at the expense of the human rights of the people.”
Macaspac lauded the CHR for endorsing the filing of criminal charges against the soldiers in civilian court. She however cautioned the relatives of the victims not to pin much hope on winning the case because of the current state of the Philippine justice system.
“Seeking justice is part of the healing process of victims and their relatives. While we encourage the victims and the relatives to go through the process, we don’t encourage them to consider the court as the “end all and be all” of getting justice. They should also seek other means to attain justice,” she said.
“In the end, the success of their coping would depend on their own strength, enhanced by their social support network, and how they use this strength to change the crisis situation they are in."
The Children's Rehabilitation Center is a non-government organization providing direct psycho-social help to children victims of human rights violations.