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Media Release #38
May 23, 1997
Reference: Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Secretary-General
Stop the militarization of Central Mindanao! - rights group says "kidnap problem" mere front for anti-rebel offensives
The so-called "kidnapping problem" in Central Mindanao does not hold water and merely justifies a military overkill, says the human rights alliance Karapatan. "We believe the kidnapping problem has been inflated beyond proportions by the Ramos government, to justify massive troop deployment against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front," said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan secretary-general.
She expressed disbelief that battalions of combat troops and heavy military equipment have to be used against the alleged kidnap gangs. "At first glance, it is pure nonsense for the government to say that troops and armor are needed against plain gangsters. This anti-kidnapping war is a phantom war and camouflages the government's real intention - to militarily defeat the MILF despite the ongoing peace talks," she explained. "Moreover, we tend to believe that the military and police are themselves behind the kidnappings and other criminal acts, as the Kuratong Baleleng case exposed; the military and police should quit fooling us and clean up their ranks instead."
Enriquez added that the government was disguising its intensifying military offensives against rebel groups in the countryside: "Here in Luzon, the government excused massive troop deployment in Zambales province last year as part of "APEC security preparations." But up to now, the soldiers are still there and are now chasing NPA rebels and terrorizing their alleged civilian supporters, in stark violation of international humanitarian law."
Enriquez also lashed out at Defense Secretary Renato de Villa for his statements implying that MILF "criminal acts" were not subjects of peace negotiations. "We remind Mr. De Villa that the MILF, or any other armed opposition groups for that matter, have definite political pursuits, and so their actions cannot be categorized as "criminal acts." We are certain that De Villa and DILG Secretary barbers are criminalizing the war against the MILF as a war against plain gangsters, to discredit and justify all-out warfare against it."
Karapatan called for a stop to the militarization of Central Mindanao and elsewhere in the Philippines, like Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Bicol, Eastern Visayas and most of Mindanao. "These are the areas we have identified as suffering the brunt of militarization. We urge the pullout of the troops, the investigation of human rights violations and the punishment of the perpetrators of these violations. For example, it has been revealed by an independent group that the Buldon Massacre may have been perpetrated by the military, but no action has been done,' Enriquez said."