SPEAKER Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte has ruled out human rights abuses allegedly committed by the military during the 60-day period of martial law in Mindanao, including in war-torn Marawi City.
Alvarez issued the statement after Samira Gutoc, an aid worker who hails from Marawi City, testified before the special joint session of Congress about such abuses.
Gutoc, a former member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), made a tearful appeal for the end of martial law in Mindanao.
“That’s just one voice…a voice in the wilderness. Got to Mindanao and let’s conduct a survey. Let’s get the pulse of our people,” Alvarez said.
Congress approved the five-month extension of martial law on Saturday as requested by President Rodrigo Duterte to allegedly suppress rebellion from the combined forces of the Maute group, Abu Sayyaf, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
“I challenge everyone to conduct a survey. We are representatives of the people. In my district, I assure you, the lowest percentage of martial law approval is 90 percent,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez called on sectors claiming human rights violations committed against civilians to file a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
The CHR, however, does not have prosecutorial powers since it could only investigate and recommend the filing of charges before the courts.
“There are a lot of allegations of human rights abuses. Well, the CHR is there. They should file complaints there. Why is it our concern?” Alvarez added.
Also during the joint session, Armed Forces Chief Eduardo Año assured Congress that the military would penalize individuals from their ranks who would be found guilty of committing human rights violations in implementing martial law.
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo said that the government should investigate Gutoc’s claims to prevent it from worsening.
Robredo and Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson of the provincial crisis management committee, also said in separate interviews that evacuees have mixed emotions on extended martial law in Mindanao because they have been longing to return to their homes in Marawi City.
President Duterte declared martial law on May 23 after the Maute group staged a series of attacks in Marawi City in a bid to establish a caliphate in the south with Islamist extremist leader Isnilon Hapilo as its emir.