MANILA, Philippines — The military and police have been arbitrarily picking up evacuees from Marawi City and, in some cases, allegedly torturing them in efforts to weed out extremist gunmen who have been battling government forces for more than two months now, a human rights group said Tuesday.
Karapatan said it discovered this “worrisome trend” when it joined the 2nd National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission for Marawi evacuees from July 27-29 with Kalinaw Mindanao, Gabriela and other organizations.
The battle for Marawi, which broke out on May 23, prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the whole of Mindanao under martial law. Congress has since granted Duterte’s request to extend martial law until the end of the year.
The fighting, which government earlier predicted would be over in days, has since claimed hundreds of lives as it intensified and has, for more than a month, been marked by air and artillery strikes.
In the course of the humanitarian mission, Karapatan said they “also documented human rights violations under the context of martial law’s implementation.”
Among the cases reported by the human rights group was that of mechanic Arafat Lala, 38, who fled Marawi for Saguiaran on May 24.
An affidavit executed by Lala’s wife Noraidah said he was arrested on July 23 by the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, who claimed he was a suspected terrorist.
But Noraidah said her husband had even been chosen to be a leader of the evacuation center where they have been staying, tasked with helping systematize the distribution of relief.
Karapatan also said local social welfare officials and Lala’s fellow evacuees could attest to his identity and the work he did in the evacuation center. They said that, hours before his arrest, Lala and other volunteers had just returned from picking up boxes of relief goods from Iligan City.
Arafat is believed to be in the custody of the CIDG Region 10 in Cagayan de Oro City.
Karapatan also documented the arrest of Junar Abbas, 36, and his sons Jabbar, 20, and Jeber, 18, who were picked up from the Saguiaran evacuation center on June 1, handcuffed and brought to a police precinct for interrogation.
There, said the human rights group, they were placed in separate rooms where soldiers allegedly dripped hot candle wax on their hands in an attempt to get them to confess to being members of extremist groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
The three were detained for a week, questioned every day and handcuffed throughout their ordeal. Junar still has the scars from the cuffs, said Karapatan.
Eventually, they were “cleared” and given canned goods during their release.
A week after Abbas and his sons were picked up, Jahmaral Dimaampao, 27, along 20 other evacuees staying at the Lumundot Compound in Toril, Iligan City, were rounded up by police and taken to the precinct in Tubod where they were detained for a day.
Jahamral’s father, Lomala, said his son’s mugshots were taken although no charges were filed against him.
“This is martial law’s new phase — the phase of manufacturing enemies to justify the extension of martial law. The level of repression is further heightened as military elements are seen loitering around in evacuation centers, becoming defensive and even aggressive when the word ‘justice’ is so much as spoken by either the mission team or the evacuees,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
Palabay said the alleged abuses they documented have led them to “seriously question information about the numbers presented by the military, and about the real security situation in Marawi.”
She also said the Duterte government “cannot forever hide behind the veil of ‘national security’, especially with the evacuees’ own perceptions that civilian casualties are far worse, the numbers sanitized and re-calibrated to appease public discontent.”