ZAMBOANGA CITY – A group of war refugees falsely accused as Moro rebels said they were detained and tortured by security forces.
The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) said eight villagers filed counter-charges against soldiers and policemen who arrested them in June 23 in the village of Kulasi in General Salipada Pendatun town in Maguindanao.
The eight, which included three teenagers, were arrested while on their way home to get food supplies for their families at the evacuation camps.
The human rights center said the men – now called the Bagumbayan 8 after the name of their community – have submitted sworn statements supported by affidavits from 16 neighbors who fled the fighting between government troops and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
“Besides vehemently denying the allegations of their captors, the Bagumbayan 8 accused their captors of physically coercing confession and planting evidence to support the false charges against them,” the MinHRAC said.
The refugees told the soldiers that they were just taking advantage of the lull in fighting to return to their homes. They showed the soldiers a copy of an official government list of refugees from the municipal social welfare office that included their names, but the military detained them after accusing them of being rebels.
“However, instead of getting protection from the AFP and PNP after they had made clear they are civilians with a white flag and by raising their shirts to reveal they were not carrying any weapon, they were arrested, tied and blindfolded while being detained. They were made to spend the night at an abandoned elementary school where they were beaten up to coerce them into confessing they are terrorists,” according to the statement.
One of those detained recounted an attempt to manufacture evidence against them. The refugee, who sustained rope burns on his arm, said he and his companions were brought by the soldiers to a nearby school.
Several men in civilian and camouflage uniform took him to a place that smelled heavily of burnt gunpowder.
The detainee, who was blindfolded, felt someone grabbed his hands, pried his fingers open, rubbed his hands and said: “Ito na, ito na ang daliri na ginamit sa paghawak ng baril.” (These are the fingers that held the gun).
After the interrogations, the detainee found out that both his hands and fingernails bore traces of a black substance which he believed to have been caused by the man who touched his hands and planted gunpowder.
The arrest of the refugees triggered protests among locals.