CHR pushes joint probe of massacre with ARMM
MANILA, Philippines—A joint independent investigation by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao-Regional Human Rights Commission (ARMM-RHRC) is being pushed to look into the bloody encounter that killed 44 elite police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25.
CHR Chair Loretta Rosales led a team from the agency’s central office to Cotabato City and Mamasapano along with the ARMM-RHRC, on Feb. 3 and 4.
After conducting a two-day initial scoping mission, the CHR was able to establish facts “that engender a prima facie belief that human rights and international humanitarian law were violated.”
In a press conference on Monday, Rosales said an independent probe by the two bodies was endorsed by local ARMM officials.
However, the CHR, citing its omnibus rules of procedure, declined to disclose the prima facie facts that made them decide to push through with an investigation.
“I propose to anchor the joint independent investigation on these basic points: Truth, justice and peace,” Rosales said.
The most obvious prima facie fact was the loss of life by both parties, which was a primary consideration, she said.
Rosales noted that there was a lack of compliance with the rules of the ceasefire agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), such as nonconsultation with the Commission on the Cessation of Hostilities.
“Was there excessive use of force? There were pictures that came out in social media of the brutalized situation of the bodies. Were they mutilated? Or were high-powered firearms used which were enough to cause the breaking of limbs and the destruction of faces?” Rosales asked.
It will be the joint investigation team, composed of three working groups, which will be releasing the results of the probe upon its completion.
The CHR said the information and evidence gathering team was undergoing a refresher course on applicable human rights, international human law and criminal law standards in Cotabato City.
CHR Executive Director Homer Matthew Rusiana said they would initially gather submitted documents and reports, including autopsy files, from the parties concerned.
The agency will also summon those present during the encounter, including Philippine National Police officials, if needed.
Algamar Latiph, ARMM-RHRC chair, said a joint probe was necessary since the incident was a big case that should be given priority.
He called on all sectors of society to remain calm and let the investigation take its course.
“We hope the peace process will not be affected by the Mamasapano incident. In Mindanao we really need the peace process,” Latiph said.
Rosales defended the CHR probe of the incident, which is one of many being conducted by different government agencies following the incident.
The CHR and ARMM-RHRC also signed with the National Human Rights Institution of the Philippines a 12-point joint statement on the Mamasapano incident.
The Special Action Force (SAF) was carrying out a law enforcement operation against two high-profile terrorists on Jan. 25 when they were waylaid by the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Aside from the 44 SAF troopers, 18 Muslim rebels and five civilians were killed in the encounter.
Rosales said the agency was conducting the investigation motu proprio since it was their mandate to investigate all forms of human rights violations.
“The CHR’s purview is to determine whether or not, during or after the incident, the most relevant human rights and international human law standards were met,” she said.
In particular, she said, the operational lapses, the issue of command responsibility, as well as political or private gain, are subsumed by the broader issue of whether the deaths of 67 people were “morally justified or acceptable under universally agreed standards.”
The CHR said it had begun reaching out to the officials in government and the MILF, as well as civilians concerned. The CHR has sent a letter to the MILF through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
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