DND reacts, AFP mum on US report citing ‘numerous’ human rights abuses by PH security forces

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana challenged the United States government on Good Friday, April 15, to provide the details of the reports of human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by state security forces in the Philippines.

Lt. Gen. Romeo S. Brawner Jr. (right), commanding general of the Philippine Army (PA), receives guest of honor and speaker Defense Sec. Delfin N. Lorenzana during the 125th PA anniversary celebration at the PA Grandstand in Fort Bonifacio, Metro Manila on March 22, 2022.

In its 2021 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, the US State Department confirmed that “there were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.”

“We question the State Department’s report of abuses by security forces. But since the State Department seems so sure of its facts, we challenge it to provide us with details so our Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a constitutional and independent body, can verify them, and if proven accurate, the perpetrators will be punished,” Lorenzana said in a statement.

“Absent these data, the accusations are nothing but innuendos and witch hunt. At worst, the State has become a gullible victim of black propaganda,” he added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), meanwhile, did not respond to queries about the US report.

According to the US State Department’s report released last Tuesday, April 12, the AFP controls Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGU) while the Philippine National Police (PNP) takes command of Civilian Volunteer Organizations which “often received minimal training and were poorly monitored and regulated.”

In effect, some political families and clan leaders, especially in Mindanao, were able to maintain private armies and “at times, recruited Civilian Volunteer Organization and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit members into those armies.”

The report said that among the significant human rights issues include credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings including extrajudicial killings “by and on behalf of the government and non-state actors.”

These were particularly evident in the Duterte administration’s anti-illegal drug campaign which has killed more than 6,000 drug suspects, according to the government. Human rights groups, however, estimated the death toll between 20,000 to 30,000.

There were also reports of killings involving activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists “by government allies, anti-government insurgents, and unknown assailants,” according to the US State Department.

Meanwhile, the US State Department disputed the AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict’s report that there were no cases of forced disappearance attributed or implicating the military from January to July 2021.

“The CHR, however, reported eight persons were victims of abduction and forced disappearance from January to August. Armed forces members perpetrated two of these cases; communist insurgents, another two; national police members, one; alleged members of the National Bureau of Investigation, one; and those responsible for the remaining cases were unidentified,” the US report said.

Among those who were victims of abduction and forced disappearances was Elena Tijamo, a farmers’ group organizer. She was forcibly abducted by unidentified individuals from her home in Bantayan Island in Cebu in June 2020. Her body was later found in Manila in September of the same year.

According to the US State Department, Tijamo was an “executive with an agricultural organization that the military in 2019 had declared to be a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines’ New People’s Army (NPA).”

But Lorenzana countered the US State Department’s report with the recent results of an independent and non-commissioned survey that showed the AFP was the most trusted and approved government agency in the Philippines in the first quarter of 2022.

In the First Quarter 2022 Pahayag Survey of Publicus Asia, the AFP garnered the highest approval and trust ratings among government agencies with a 67.4 percent and 53.4 percent ratings, respectively. The survey was conducted from March 30 to April 6, 2022, and involved 1,500 respondents.

“Surely, it did not earn this by abusing people,” Lorenzana noted.