ZAMBOANGA CITY: A group of war refugees falsely accused as Moro rebels, and tortured and detained by security forces have filed charges against their captors in the southern Philippines.
The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) said that eight Moro villagers filed counter-charges against soldiers and policemen who arrested them on June 23 in the village of Kulasi in General Salipada Pendatun town in Maguindanao province.
The eight men, including three teenagers, were arrested while on their way home to get much needed 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 their sworn statements which were supported by affidavits from 16 witnesses who are neighbors and also displaced by the fighting between government troops and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
“Besides vehemently denying the allegations of their captors, the Bagumbayan 8 accused their captors of physically coercing confession and planting of 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 go back to their homes to get desperately needed food for their families.
They also 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 instead 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 a disturbing attempt to manufacture evidence against them. The refugee, who sustained a rope burn injury on his arm, attested that when he and his companions were brought by the soldiers to a nearby school, several men clad in civilian and camouflage uniform, took him to a place wreaked heavily of burnt gunpowder.
There, this detainee, who was blindfolded, felt someone grab 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).
Later on, after the military interrogations, he found out that both his hands and fingernails bore traces of a black substance 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 and called on authorities to free the innocent civilians.