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PHILIPPINES: Massacre of a civilian family by military caused intense fighting and massive displacement in Maimbong, Sulu

March 21, 2005



22 March 2005

UA-48-2005: PHILIPPINES: Massacre of a civilian family by military caused intense fighting and massive displacement in Maimbong, Sulu

PHILIPPINES: Massacre; Displacement; Violation during internal conflict; Rule of Law

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Suara Bangsamoro, Moro Christian Peoples Alliance (MCPA) and the Concerned Citizens of Sulu (CCS) regarding the massacre of a civilian family allegedly by elements of the 53rd Infantry Battalion (IB), Philippine Army, under Col. Dennis Villanueva. The family was killed and two others were injured in Kapuk Pungol, Banauice, Maimbong, Sulu on 1 February 2005 at around 6:00am.

Those who were killed in the massacre were Tal Padiwan and his wife Sidang, their son Aldasir (13) and Salip Faisal. Those injured were Almujayal Padiwan (7) and Jamil Julambri.

The incident caused intense fighting when members of the breakaway rebel groups Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) attacked military camps in Panamao, Sulu on 6 February 2005 in retaliation to the Padiwan massacre. The fighting continue and spilled-over to neighboring towns in Jolo, Sulu displacing at least 26,000 civilians as of the end of February.

Your immediate action is needed to urge the Philippine government to provide assistance and indemnify the victims and their families. Urge the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Zamboanga City to recommend for the filing of appropriate charges in court against the perpetrators of the Padiwan massacre.

Likewise please urge the Philippine government to end its military offensive and declare a ceasefire in the area so that the villagers can go back to their respective villages with the government providing for their rehabilitation.

Urgent Appeals Desk
AHRC Urgent Appeals Programme
22 March 2005
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DETAILED INFORMATION: (Based on testimony of a survivor)

Killed: Tal Padiwan, Sidang Padiwan, Aldasir Padiwan and Salip Faisal  
Injured: Almujayal Padiwan (7)
Displaced persons: at least 26,000 individuals
Date of incident: 1 February 2005 at around 6:00am
Place of incident: Kapuk Pungol, Banauice, Maimbong, Sulu
Alleged Perpetrators: 53rd Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, under Col. Dennis Villanueva

Four persons were killed and two others were wounded, when elements of the 53rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, allegedly raided their house and shot each one of them on 1 February 2005 in Kapuk Pungol, Sitio Banauice, Maimbong, Sulu.

Those who were killed during the incident were Tal Padiwan and his wife Sidang, their son Aldasir and another relative Salip Faisal. Three other children, namely Almujayal (7), Madzrana (10) and a 3-year old boy were either wounded or not hurt during the incident.

In an interview, Almujayal Padiwan, one of the survivors, said he and his brother Aldasir were sleeping inside their room at around 6:00am when unidentified men wearing military uniform entered and started firing at them. Their uncle, Salip Faisal, who had stayed for the night, died on the spot while Aldasir, who was hit in the stomach, died while being rushed to the hospital.

“Way ko kaingatan maita kami binaril’ (We didn’t know why they shot us”, Almujayal said. He denied the military’s claims that his father had a firearm with him at that time.

The couple, Tal and Sidang, were cooking rice cakes in the kitchen when they were shot dead. One of their children, 10-year old Madzrana, was beside them and witnessed the killing. The girl however was not hurt. She was instead told by the military to go outside the house and to take her 3-year old brother Aljeezmar with her.

Madzrana said “Mataud ngang military “(there were many military men wearing fatigue) when she saw the military troops outside their house. The soldiers were reportedly on operation at the time.

Later in the afternoon, the Barangay Captain of Kapuk Pungol took Aldasir’s dead body from the hospital and buried it at the nearby town in Parang. At that time, Almujayal and his sister Madzrana and 3-year old brother, did not know where the bodies of their parents were.

While being treated at the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO), Almujayal said that he escaped for fear that the military might harm him. He said he noticed one of the military showing hand gestures that he would be killed soon if he would speak about the incident.

However, Almujayal was sent back to the hospital later by a human rights organization, but doctors said his wounds had developed an infection and his infected finger had to be cut off.

The Padiwan’s belonged to a poor family. They used to sell rice cakes for a living. One of the children, Arsheed, the eldest among the children, even recounted that one of the military use to buy rice cakes from him prior to the incident.

Development of the case

Few days after the incident, the break away group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a dissatisfied rebel group who earlier signed a peace agreement with the government, attacked a military camp in Panamao, Sulu, in retaliation to the Padiwans killing. It prompted the government to launch a military action against the rebels that reach to nearby areas. The fighting continues having left hundreds of rebels and soldiers dead.

In a fact-finding report, as of 19 February, at least 26,000 persons have been displaced because of the fighting. The fighting has also resulted in damages to properties, death of civilians, incidents of human rights violations and scarcity of food, medicines and evacuation centers. It also spilled over to at least ten municipalities in the island of Jolo, Sulu.

Recently, it was reported that evacuees had already decreased as some of them returned home to areas where the military have retaken control. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Zamboanga City had already conducted its investigation on the case. However, it has not yet released to public its findings.

Further, Rep. Satur Ocampo of party list Bayan Muna, chair of the House committee on peace, reconciliation and unity, had already moved to conduct an inquiry in the Jolo, Sulu conflict. The statement of survivors Almujayal, Madzrana and the 3-year old boy will be heard.

Please send a letter, fax or e-mail to the following authorities and express your concern about this case.
Sample letter:

Dear _____________,

RE: PHILIPPINES: Massacre of a civilian family by military caused intense fighting and massive displacement in Maimbong, Sulu.

Killed: Tal Padiwan, Sidang Padiwan, Aldasir Padiwan and Salip Faisal  
Injured: Almujayal Padiwan (7)
Displaced persons: at least 26,000 individuals
Date of incident: 1 February 2005 at around 6:00am
Place of incident: Kapuk Pungol, Banauice, Maimbong, Sulu
Alleged Perpetrators: 53rd Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, under Col. Dennis Villanueva

I am writing to bring to your attention the massacre of a civilian family allegedly perpetrated by members of the 53rd Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army under Col. Dennis Villanueva on 1 February 2005 in Maimbong, Sulu. The massacre resulted in the death of Tal Padiwan and his wife Sidang, their son Aldasir and Salip Faisal, a family relative. Seven-year old Almujayal was wounded but survived the incident. Two other children, Madzrana (10) and a 3-year old boy, were also injured, but survived.

The massacre caused major fighting in Jolo, Sulu when members of the break away group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) attacked military detachments in retaliation for the Padiwans massacre. This broke out into major fighting that spilled-over to neighboring towns and displaced at least 26,000 individuals in ten affected municipalities.

The renewed fighting in Jolo, Sulu indicates the military’s failure to adhere to Protocol II of the Geneva Convention that provides protection to victims of Non-International Armed Conflict. In particular is the provision that “prohibits violence to the life, health and physical or mental well-being of person” under Article 4, Section 2(a). I call for the immediate arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of the Padiwan massacre. The military officials and units who played a role in the Padiwan massacre must be dealt with accordingly.

The government must take responsibility for the three survivors of the massacre, Almujayal (7), his sister Madzrana (10) and their 3-year old brother, especially that they are all minors. The government must ensure the sustainability of their living in the absence of their parents.

I also urge the government to use peaceful solutions in resolving the Jolo, Sulu fighting rather than the continued military action in order to avoid further loss of lives and properties. Rehabilitation for the displaced civilians must be ensured once they have gone back to their respective villages.

Further, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Zamboanga City must recommend for the filing of charges in court against those responsible of human rights violations based on the findings of their investigation. The members of the House of Representative must also push through with its proposed congressional inquiry.

I look forward for your immediate intervention in this matter.

Yours truly,

1. Hon. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Malacanang Palace
J.P. Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila, NCR 1005
Fax: +63 2929 3968

2. Hon. Purificacion Quisumbing
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman, Quezon City
Fax: +63 2929 0101/928 0848
Email: drpvq@chr.gov.ph

3. Hon. Avelino J. Cruz Jr.
Secretary, Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Bldg.,
Camp Emilio Aguinaldo
E. de los Santos Avenue, Quezon City
Fax: +63 2911 6213
Email: osnd@philonline.com

4. Gen. Efren L. Abu
Chief of Staff
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
AFP-GHQ Offices, Camp Gen Emilio Aguinaldo
Quezon City

5. P/DIR Gen. Arturo Lumibao
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp Crame, Quezon City
Tel: +63 2726 4361/4366/8763
Fax: +63 2724 8763
6. Atty. Manuel Mamauag
Regional Director
Commission on Human Rights (CHR)
2nd Floor Philippine Veterans Bldg.
Gov. Lim Avenue and Saavedra Streets
7000 Zamboanga City
Tel. No. +63 062 993 2869/993 0735

7. Mr. Philip Alston
Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions
Atten: Lydie Ventre
Room 3-016, c/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
Tel: +41 22 917 9155
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (general)
E-mail: urgent-action@ohchr.org
Thank you.
Urgent Appeals Desk
AHRC Urgent Appeals Programm

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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.