Rights group dared to seek justice for NPA ’victims’

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INSISTING that accusations of leftist groups against the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are mere propaganda, a military official on Sunday challenged human-rights group Karapatan to also seek justice for lumad (indigenous people) allegedly killed by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the past.

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Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, commander of the AFP Civil Relations Service (CRS), said the killing of a school teacher and two leaders of the Manobo tribe in Surigao del Sur two weeks ago was a result of a tribal war and the military has nothing to do with it.

“The AFP is not connected to any group involved in the tribal conflict now happening particularly in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and will not tolerate any group espousing violence in any community,” Kakilala added.

“The AFP condemns in the strongest terms the killings of our lumad brothers or any innocent civilians more so if [they are]outside of the legal framework and existing laws by any group,” he said.

Karapatan on Saturday formally asked the United Nations to intervene and investigate what it calls the murders of the three tribesmen.

Kakilala said the AFP welcomes Karapatan’s move but pointed out that the group should be fair by also seeking justice for tribal people killed by NPA rebels.

“We call on them to seek justice for all including the 357 lumad [whom]the NPA remnants killed in Southern Mindanao from 1998 to 2008. In 2009 alone in Southern Mindanao, the NPA killed 83 civilians, 24 of them were lumad, let Karapatan also seek justice for them,” he added.

The AFP official cited in particular the killing of the Tulang brothers in 2010 in Davao City by the NPA’s Pulang Bagani Company 1 under the late Leoncio Pitao alias Commander Parago.

According to Kakilala, the elder Tulang was shot in the head, his two siblings were left to bleed to death after the rebels slit their necks.

All three brothers, he said, were hogtied and bore torture marks.

“Let Karapatan fight for all the atrocities committed by any group, not just alleged crimes committed by one while turning a blind eye on the heinous crimes committed and publicly admitted by the NPA,” Kakilala added.

Col. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesman, said the military has expected the move by Karapatan to internationalize the issue, describing it as an effort to destroy the AFP and the government.

“The attempt to internationalize the issue and demonize the government and the AFP in regard to the matter is always an expected move on their part. It is obviously part of their agenda to hurl all accusations and blame everything on the AFP to besmirch the AFP’s reputation,” said Padilla.

He again denied the military’s involvement in the incident and pointed out the AFP is cooperating fully with the Philippine National Police in its investigation of the killings.

According to Padilla, the military is also doing its own internal investigation to ascertain if AFP actions were appropriate relative to the incident.

“We assure the public that the interests of the lumad and our respect for their cultural ways is foremost in our minds,” he said.

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