Lt. Col. Pio Diñoso III, commanding officer of the 79th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Siaton, Negros Oriental, yesterday said he welcomes the charges filed by a volunteer of the militant human rights group, Karapatan, and civilians claiming to be victims of human rights abuses and other violations by him and his men.
Diñoso’s statement came in reaction to an electronic statement from Karapatan-Central Visayas saying that “victims of recent military abuses in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental, filed formal complaints last Friday at the Ombudsman-Visayas against five identified soldiers of the 79th Infantry Battalion, including its commanding officer.”
The statement said charges ranged from violation of Republic Act 6713, violation of domicile, and physical injuries to arbitrary arrest and detention, which emanated in the “aftermath of an alleged [New People’s Army] NPA-Scout Ranger firefight in Sitio Payao-payawan, Sta.Catalina.”
At least three suspected NPA rebels were killed in two days of fighting between purported rebels and Army troops last March 16 and 17 in Payao-payawan, Sta. Catalina.
The Karapatan statement also claims that at least 13 households had been displaced due to said clashes, which Diñoso dismissed as another attempt to discredit the Philippine Army and the Philippine government, adding that the encounter sites were unpopulated.
Furthermore, the human rights alliance also claimed that a civilian and local resident, 18-year-old Marvin Villegas, was shot by soldiers during the height of the encounters, while another resident, Pastor Dionisio Bulandres, “bared that the soldiers raided his home and stabbed him with the muzzle of a rifle shortly after the firefight last March 16.
Bulandres claims the perpetrators, including a Cpl. Jungco, ordered him to jump out of his house, but got angry when he refused. He added that the assault on his person traumatized his household, especially his little children.
In a separate complaint, Manuel Bentillo, a volunteer of the monitoring team of Karapatan, accused the soldiers led by Cpl. Yosores and Sgt. Corpus of illegal arrests and other violations when his group and some residents were held against their will while trying to bring to the town center the wounded resident, Villegas.
In his affidavit, Bentillo said that Villegas’ neighbors asked his groups’ help to bring to the hospital the young farmer at about 3 p.m. last March 16.
On their way however, at about 10 p.m., the soldiers allegedly pounced on them and at “gunpoint arrested and interrogated the human rights monitoring group, the patient and his family and neighbors.”
The human rights monitoring body has been in Sta.Catalina since Feb. 15, at the start of the formal peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front, to observe the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human rights and Internal Humanitarian Laws signed by the two parties.
“We are disgusted over the AFP’s ongoing Oplan Bayanihan which clearly and totally disregards human rights. We condemned the continuing AFP policy of targeting civilians and covering this up with mere allegations that the victims are NPA supporters. We demand the junking of Oplan Bayanihan and all militarist policies,” said Rev. Ray Gelloagan, chairperson of Karapatan-Central Visayas.
Gelloagan expects more victims to lodge complaints in the coming weeks as the military intensifies its operation in the affected communities, the statement said.
Meanwhile, Diñoso has denied all of the allegations, saying that he and his men are prepared to answer all the charges hurled against them.
“We cannot be distracted by these baseless accusations which will backfire against them,” as the truth will come out during the judicial inquiry.
Diñoso reiterated his initial pronouncements that Villegas is an alleged NPA member who sustained gunshot wounds during the encounter in Payao-payawan, and that, his soldiers intercepted the group of Manuel Bentillo who was escorting the wounded Villegas several hours after the clash.
A former NPA rebel who had surrendered to government authorities had identified Villegas as one of them and that he was allegedly issued a M-16 rifle by the NPA.*JFP
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