Among records of around 64 Moro locals in South Cotabato who were slain since early 2020, only one case has been filed in court while the rest of the affidavits were not reduced into writing due to fear and existence of revenge-kill cycle, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Region XII said during a Pakighinabi on Moro killings in South Cotabato.
Representing CHR-Region XII Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, OIC Regional Director Atty. Erlan Deluvio affirmed the case of Ustadz Mohammad Taha Abdulgapor, a professor from Mindanao State University-General Santos City who was shot dead in GenSan on May 26 last year while driving on the way home to Polomolok, as the lone case pending despite numerous reports of killings.
Deluvio emphasized that the reports of alleged killings by the police and other unidentified men were not translated into writing due to a ‘slow progress’ caused by lack of cooperation on the part of the victims’ families.
“Takot ang mga [pamilya nila] kasi sila yung pagbabalingan ng galit kasi nga meron tayong revenge-kill cycle sa area ng Polomolok… kasi nga hindi na i-execute ang affidavit, puro na lang sila sumbong pero [pinagsasabihan] natin na we have to reduce into writing so that we can file it in the appropriate forum,” Deluvio said.
In addition, the regional director underscored the difficulty in convincing the witnesses of reported killings to give their statements due to a slow justice system which exhausts the families of the victims and even leads them to psychological trauma.
“Imagine, gabi-gabi papasyalan ka ng mga unidentified men sa bahay mo… at ma-eexpose ka sa psychological torture… kaya we feel very sorry for them kasi nga napakahirap ng ganoong situation. They are now torn between filing the case and looking for justice, and at the same time, sparing themselves from the agonies,” Deluvio said.
Deluvio, however, assured the willingness of the CHR to assist the families in drafting of the complaints, and that the agency itself would not back down in finding justice for their slain family members.
Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Jose Noel Alano asserted that no peace can be attained without justice, citing impunity and fear as hindrances in obtaining it.
“Justice implies that we seek the truth but it’s hard to seek the truth when there is a climate of fear and climate of impunity. Talagang mahihirapan mag-come forward ang pamilya ng biktima kung sila’y takot at kung sa tingin nila ay walang mangyayari kung sila ay lumapit,” he said.
Narratives from the ground
With the rise on numbers of Moro killings for years, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) on July 16 last year issued Resolution No. 80, series of 2020 “expressing the deep concern over the series of killings of Moros outside BARMM community, particularly in the municipalities of Polomolok and Tupi, South Cotabato.”
The resolution calls for an impartial and full-blown investigation of the said series of killings to bring the perpetrators to justice, and recommends Government of the Philippines and MILF Peace Implementing Panels to convene and institute peace mechanisms and sustainable security for the Moro’s protection of their rights and in their areas.
Among the latest victims reported this June 6 in Polomolok were Datu Emilton Abedin Ampatuan, former vice chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Political Affairs in the region and his son who have been shot, according to the authorities, for provoking a gunfight after having been served with a warrant of arrest under Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020.
The family members of the victims were not present in the dialogue due to security reasons but the organizers have received a copy of the official statement.
Based on the consolidated statement of the victims’ family members, police authorities forcibly entered the residence early in the morning when they had just slept by 2 AM to prepare for the graduation of their younger siblings that day.
Ced Kando, one of the victims’ family members, shared that the enforcement operations have caused the elders and other residents fear of becoming the next victims, as well as resulted in displacement of families.
As a resident of Polomolok, Kando called for a thorough investigation into whether there is a presence of terrorists in the local area, and for the due process to be upheld, giving the accused the right to defend themselves instead of killing them instantly.
“Kung meron man talagang mga pangalan ‘yan na hinahanap, ilabas po ninyo… ipakita niyo sa amin kasi willing po ‘yung mga tao sa ground na sumuko kung talagang meron diyan ang hinahanap kaysa naman na meron kayong mga pangalan na hinahanap na itong mga taong to ay inosente, ‘di na po sila nabigyan ng chance na ma-prove ‘yung mga sarili nila na inosente sila,” he said.
No EJK on Moro in South Cotabato —SoCot PPO
However, Col. Jemuel Siason, Provincial Director of South Cotabato PPO, denied the allegations of having extrajudicial killings on Moro locals in the area, stating that South Cotabato is one of the most peaceful provinces in Region XII with a low total crime volume and high crime solution efficiency.
“The peace and order situation in South Cotabato is generally peaceful and very normal and under control po ng ating government forces… at ang atin namang Muslim brothers and sisters at mga Kristiyano ay nagkaka-intindihan,” Siason said.
Siason further said that “actions by the PNP are legitimate covered by search warrants, warrants of arrest, and with accurate information provided to them.”
“Hindi po basta-basta sinasabi na ‘yung isang tao po ay basta na lang papatayin. Wala pong ganoon sa South Cotabato. Wala pong extrajudicial killings and [such as] Moro killings,” he stressed.
Asked on the assurance that nothing will happen to the victims’ families if they cooperate and filed their case with the PNP, Siason responded not to be afraid as long as they are not engaged on illegal doings or anything against the government since the police are “willing and open on investigations on any allegations against them.”
“We always uphold the rule of law… meron tayong sinusunod na police operational procedure and if meron po tayong nakikitang loopholes po dun at mga pagkakamali, we are going to correct them immediately and we are going to caution our personnel,” he replied.
The said forum titled “Sustaining Peace in Mindanao: A Pakighinabi on the Moro Killings in South Cotabato” was organized by the University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC), together with AlQalam Institute for Islamic Studies and Identities in Southeast and Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy Center (APILA), and Davao Association of Catholic Schools (DACS). It was attended by various universities and organizations worldwide last June 30 via Zoom.