Monday, November 16, 2009

Documenting the injustices of war

The posting today Nov. 17 on the Mindanao People's Caucus facebook page by Father Eduardo Vasquez Jr., of his experiences as the Catholic parish priest in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, Philippines, provides horrifying details regarding some of the worst realities of the recent war in Mindanao, including: 1) Who really started it; 2) Gun running by Philippine military; 3) torture and killing of civilians; 4) ghost units of the Philippine military 5) death of children and others in IDP centers; 6) stealing of relief supplies.

1) People always want to know who "started it." The fighting after the failed signing of the MOA-AD (agreement on thorniest issue of ancestral domain) was initiated NOT by the MILF (muslim fighters), as is reported in the media, but by the goverment paramilitary CVOs (civilian volunteer organization). Father Vasquez reports that on Aug. 8, 2008, "The reason for evacuating was the news that circulated through text messages that the military would make an offensive to the MILF camps in Pikit. This news coincided with the arrival of military troops with heavy armaments in Pikit that day....At around 5:00 PM, firing between the Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) and the MILF troops started in Barangays Kolambugan and Tapodoc....The tension in Pikit heightened when the AFP started the mortar shelling to the MILF camp. Explosion of mortars could be heard all over Poblacion, on Sunday of August 10, 2008." This modus operandi was confirmed by other reports from "inside," that the CVO's would breach the ceasefire line, drawing fire from the MILF, they would engage each other, then regular army units would come in to reinforce the CVOs, leading to full-scale MILF-army confrontation. These inside reports further indicated that the MILF fell-back from their position and the army occupied their village, often burning and looting houses in the process.

2) Gun running by the Philippine military and paramilitaries, "July 2009 I received a phone call from an MILF Datu Piang. He requested me to visit his place and to facilitate on how the war between his men and the 54th IB of the Philippine Army could be stopped. When I met him, I could sense that he really wanted to end the war. He was also afraid to die. He wanted already to live peacefully.... But what bothered me when I left the place was the revelation that he made about the sources of their bullets and other armaments. He attested that the bullets that they use are also coming from the Armed Forces of the Philippines. What he said was also confirmed by MILF Commander "jojo" (not his real name), the operation commander of the 105th base command.... When someone asked him how they buy bullets from the military, he said that 'the CVOs are the ones making the deal'.... War is indeed a business and unless this business is cut off, many civilians will continue to be displaced."

3) The disappearance, torture and killing of unarmed civilians, "The MILF attack that took place that day resulted to the death of Lucio (72) and Isidra Fano (63) who were husband and wife. Based on the testimony of their son-and-law, Lucio was shot while he was harvesting corn. Isidra however was inside their house when shot by another armed-man. Dulcisimo (37) who was their son was taken by the armed troops. We recovered his body after three days. It was already on the state of decomposition. Part of his intestine went out from his side. One of his eyes was gone. Probably he was tortured."

4) Operation of "ghost units" of the Philippine military involved in breaking the of law of war (human rights violations), "On September 6, 2009 just right after I celebrated Mass in Datu Piang a woman named Lindongan Husain who is around 60 years old approached me and asked me to help her find her 23-year old son who was arrested by the military last May 7, 2009 at around 8:00 AM. The name of her son is Kaharudin. According to the mother, Kaharudin was gardening in their backyard in Barangay Pagatin, Datu Saudi when some government soldiers picked him up and asked him to ride in the military truck. She wanted to go with her son but the soldiers did not permit her. The name clothes and the name of the company of the soldiers were covered with masking tape so that she was not able to identify them. Some people who saw the actual arrest of Kaharudin told me that some companions of the military were wearing bonnets. They were the ones who seemed to be identifying the people who were to be arrested.Kaharudin is the only son and the only person who supports his mother Lindongan."

"Meriam Aman the wife of Said Aman was so uneasy when I found her in Barangay Makir, Dato Odin Sinsuat on September 9, 2009. She and her 6 children were originally residing in Barangay Pagatin, Datu Saudi (35 years old) but decided to transfer when her husband Said was killed. Said was also arrested by the military in the morning of May 7, 2009. His body was found three days later at the Rio Grande de Mindanao in Barangay Duaminanga, Datu Piang. His wife and his six children are now living miserably in Barangay Makir Evacuation Center."

5) Death of children and other civilians in IDP centers, he lists, by number, several heart wrenching stories, "#3. Mohaymin Dangandangan - She was only 10-days old when he died in Damabalas Evacuation Center. She suffered from diarrhea. Her mother unable to lactate, fed her with any milk she could afford. She was never brought to the hospital when she got sick. When I met her parents she was already buried under the ground for one day. #4. Baby Boy Kureg - He was brought to the Bahay Kalinga on June 18, 2009. He suffered from pneumonia and severe difficulty in breathing. His whole body was swollen because of severe infections. I found out that his mother had been feeding him with “simbug” – a mixture of water and brown sugar and the worst was that, the water was coming from a dirty well not suitable for drinking. Baby Kureg died on June 20, 2009 in Cotabato Regional Medical Center."

6) Stealing relief food intended for IDP's, he lists 4 methods utilized by government officials, including the selling of food ration tickets, local governments confiscating rice sacks as their 'share', a mayor redirecting relief goods to their friends/constituents, and indiscriminate ticket throwing.

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