Open letter of NDFP-EV to the Commission on Human Rights-Region 8 on the AFP airstrike in Dolores

Read in: Waray

Atty. Desiree Pontejos
Commission on Human Rights-Region 8

Atty. Pontejos,

Warm greetings!

We write this letter to urge your office to pursue investigation into the disproportionate use of force by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in its airstrike against a unit of the New People’s Army (NPA) last August 16 in Brgy. Osmeña, Dolores, Eastern Samar.

We listened with intent to the interview your office gave which was aired last August 21 over DYVL Aksyon Radyo Balitang Bayan. We believe that in the conduct of the airstrike, elements of the AFP committed gross violations of international humanitarian law, particularly provisions regarding the disproportionate use of force against their opponent forces, as well as those protecting the rights of hors de combat and civilian communities surrounding the site of the attack.

1. The AFP admits that it conducted aerial bombing, indiscriminate strafing and artillery shelling from 4AM until 5PM. Initial reports add that three helicopters and a fighter jet by the Philippine Air Force were also used and troops of the 52nd Infantry Battalion and the 78th IB were also mobilized for ground attacks. We believe that these were superfluous attacks against the estimated target of 50 Red fighters. Even if we assume that the targeted NPA unit was composed entirely of armed and able-bodied combatants (which still needs to be verified by a report from the concerned NPA unit), the AFP still used an exceedingly disproportionate amount of force for their attack.

2. “Smart bombs” which are supplied by the US military to the Philippines and to countries such as Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria have repeatedly been proven to cause widespread civilian deaths. Therefore, even with the most advanced technology available to the AFP (such as the drones they claim to have helped to precisely aim at their target), the “smart bombs” used in Dolores are innately incapable of distinguishing legitimate targets from civilians, hors de combat and prisoners of war. A single one of these is capable of causing severe damage to a wide radius and can thus injure anyone within this radius, armed or not. How could the AFP have known for sure that there were no civilians, hors de combat or prisoners of war within the radius of explosion of their “smart bombs”?

3. There exists cause for investigation into possible civilian harm as a result of the AFP airstrike which the CHR must pursue. A Manila Bulletin report shows a photo of a projectile going through the roof of a house in the nearby civilian community. Fortunately, this did not explode. But the AFP still disowned the projectile and the possible harm it could have caused to the people.

And even if the AFP’s airstrike is proven to not have caused direct harm to civilians, the 13-hour bombing, indiscriminate firing and shelling at a site a mere three kilometers away from the nearest barangay could have caused psychological trauma to the residents.

We hope you consider that as it is, the surrounding civilian communities will find it difficult to personally file cases in your office not only due to restrictions to public transportation due to the pandemic, but more importantly because AFP soldiers controlling the area prevent civilians from moving in the aftermath of the bombing. All the more that the CHR-Region 8 must immediately pursue on-ground investigation into the incident.

Even before the August 16 bombing, the AFP under Rodrigo Duterte has been implementing a “scorched earth policy” in its combat operations against revolutionary forces. In 2021 alone, we have documented at least two cases of indiscriminate attacks (including simultaneous aerial bombing, artillery shelling, and indiscriminate firing) by AFP forces in Dolores, at least three in Eastern Samar, and 15 in the entire region.

We urge your office to immediately look into these cases, as well as the numerous cases of harassment, forced surrenders and human rights abuses conducted by the AFP in the guise of Retooled Community Support Program operations in Dolores since May, as documented in all provinces in Eastern Visayas.

We understand that the Commission on Human Rights has also been subjected to threats and Red-tagging by the AFP. The Duterte regime has been implementing a “whole-of-government” approach to address the armed conflict, where in practice his civil-military junta headed by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) coerces by threat and intimidation independent institutions such as your office to participate in its brutal and anti-peace “counter-insurgency” campaign.

We urge your office to be steadfast to your primary mandate of investigating and defending the people against all forms of human rights violations, especially those committed by state actors in violation of civil and political rights.

We hope for your urgent response.

National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas

Open letter of NDFP-EV to the Commission on Human Rights-Region 8 on the AFP airstrike in Dolores