By Joey Natividad
CITY OF NAGA, Bicol Region – The Philippine Army revealed Tuesday that 743 enemies of the government were either killed or arrested in military operations in 2015, but crucial questions were raised by a human rights group, expressing its concern over the worsening human rights situation in the country.
Speaking at the Army’s 119th anniversary at Fort Bonifacio, Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año disclosed that 595 members of the New People’s Army were either killed or arrested, while there were 82 from the Abu Sayyaf group, 10 from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and 56 from the Maute Group.
All these were the results of almost 300,000 focused military operations that the Army conducted from 2015 to early 2016, said the Army chief.
In those Army operations, soldiers had recovered 171 high-powered firearms, 5 crew-served weapons, 119 low-powered firearms from all threat groups.
But, the Army Chief’s sterling accomplishment over “enemy body counts” and weapons’ seized is not comforting to human rights groups who are worrying over the Army’s untold report – its human rights report card.
At what cost in human rights?
“While the Army is throwing out numbers of alleged belligerents killed and arrested, they should not lose sight of other numbers. How many activists and tribal leaders have been unlawfully killed?” a Human Rights Watch researcher informed online news BicolToday.com his reaction over the Army 2015 report.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an international human rights organization based in the US. It has been monitoring the worsening human rights situation in the country, specifically in areas of conflict.
“How many ordinary people have been unlawfully arrested and detained for months or years? And, how many soldiers and officers who took part in serious abuses have been prosecuted for their crimes?,” Carlos Conde, HRW Philippine researcher, pondered over the question which the Army can only answer.
Sources in the human rights advocacy groups have insisted that the Army’s accomplishment for enemy body counts and apprehended rebels had a corresponding “cost of wasting civilian lives”, being a collateral damage.
Modernizing “killing capability”
The Army chief also revealed the Army’s acquisitions in the past year of new weapons and equipment, such as 56,643 R4 assault rifles, 124 armored vehicles, 60 field ambulance units, 300 AFP light utility vehicles, 155 mm howitzers, 60-mm mortars, 40-mm grenade launchers, rocket launcher light units and 50-watt AV configuration radios.
President Benigno Aquino III, who attended the anniversary event, said there are 68 AFP modernization projects worth P58.43 billion completed since he assumed office.
About P7.79 billion or 26 AFP projects went to the Army.
The President proudly attended the Army anniversary, the last one as outgoing Commanding-in-Chief, and declared his “lasting legacy for AFP modernization”.
“It’s modernizing the “killing capability” rather than spending more for health and education,” said a human rights activist. [BicolToday.com]