PH military on claim of Aeta torture in Zambales: It didn’t happen
MANILA, Philippines—The military branded as falsehood a year-old report quoting two Aetas accusing soldiers of torture in their ancestral land in Zambales, saying soldiers are not human rights violators and had already come a long way as professionals who follow the rule of law.
“We stand by our troops. We do not do such violations. If they do, we do not tolerate. We value our service as protectors of the people,” Army spokesperson Col. Ramon Zagala said.
Zagala was asked to respond to revival of reports of the alleged torture by soldiers of two Aetas in Zambales province in retaliation for the death of a soldier in a supposed clash with New People’s Army (NPA) in 2020.
The two Aetas, according to the report, were the first to be charged with violating the new anti-terrorism law and, with the help of National Union of People’s Lawyers-Central Luzon, had sought Supreme Court intervention to stop the enforcement of the controversial law. They had joined dozens of other individuals and groups with petitions in the high tribunal against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
Aetas Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos had been accused of killing a soldier and of working alongside NPA. The two denied the accusations, saying they were arrested as they tried to flee from increased military operations for fear of getting caught in the crossfire. The Aetas live on ancestral land in the town of San Marcelino, where the military operations were launched.
In their petition against the new terror law, the Aetas claimed they had been tortured by soldiers for six days and forced to confess they were NPA members which the two said would be normalized if the law was enforced.
Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said officers in the field had reported the Aetas’ claim but found that the accusers could not substantiate or prove their accusation against soldiers.
“The act that our soldiers are accused of is a serious allegation that is neither a policy nor practice,” said Arevalo. “As a matter of fact, AFP regulations mandate that we respect human rights and abide by the law on armed conflict,” he said.
The military had reported in late August 2020 that it arrested five Aetas suspected to be NPA guerrillas during a clash at the village of Buhawen in San Marcelino.
The Army’s 7th Infantry Division, in a report in 2020, said the five Aetas “mixed themselves with minors but were later identified as NPA members.”
But the Army denied allegations of abuse and said these were just meant to “intentionally mislead the public.”
A ranking military officer described the torture allegations as “fake news” and turned to personal attacks against the journalists who wrote the reports.
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