MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Former Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) member Samira Gutoc-Tomawis made an emotional appeal before Congress on Saturday, July 22, as she recounted alleged human rights abuses by the military as war rages in Marawi City.
Her voice breaking, Gutoc-Tomawis disputed a claim by military chief Eduardo Año that they have not received complaints of human rights abuses by uniformed men.
"I am from Marawi City, your honors. Please ask us, 'Who do we fear?' Please ask us, 'How do we stand up and arise?'" Gutoc-Tomawis asked.
The former BTC member cited the case of 20 bodies in Capin Funeral Homes that remain unburied after almost 60 days.
In Islam, a person who died should be buried within 24 hours. Gutoc-Tomawis explained that the stalling of burials is the "highest form of prohibition and taboo" in Islam.
"And what if it's your grandfather na hindi po inilibing (who was not buried)?” she said.
According to Gutoc-Tomawis, a Muslim woman suddenly stripped off her clothes while in an evacuation, which is against Islamic teachings.
"May isa pong humubad sa isang evacuation center. In Islam, bawal pong maghubad – kaya po kami nakaganito, naka-cover ang face namin. Bawal pong makita ang katawan namin, ang suso namin, ang aming panty. Umalis kami sa mga bahay namin walang panty na dala," she said.
(One woman stripped off her clothes in an evacuation. In Islam, we can't remove our clothing – that's why we dress like this and cover our faces. Our bodies, breasts, underwear should not be seen. But we left our houses without even bringing underwear.)
It was earlier reported that the woman Gutoc-Tomawis referred to was forced to strip during an inspection at the evacuation center. She later clarified to Rappler that the woman did this because she suffered a mental breakdown due to the Marawi siege.
Gutoc-Tomawis was the the BTC member who resigned after Duterte joked about soldiers raping women while there is martial law.
Violent interrogations, dead babies
In her speech, Gutoc-Tomawis also mentioned the case of a 20-year-old special child diagnosed with mental retardation. The child was brought to the hospital after the military supposedly poured hot water over his hand before hitting it with a gun.
"He was psychologically interrogated if Maute siya. May isang baril po raw na [pinalo] sa kamay niya (He was psychologically interregoted if he is part of the Maute. There was even a gun that was used to hit his hand). We have photos, Madame Senator, Sir President, on this," said Gutoc-Tomawis.
She also claimed that a certain Mr Pandag was among the 26 men the AFP rescued, but who were later asked to remove their shirts and blindfold themselves.
"And isang sinabi po ng boses ng isang authority, 'Maghukay na kayo ng inyong libingan,'" said Gutoc-Tomawis. (And one person in authority told them, 'Start digging your graves.')
Gutoc-Tomawis shared the story, too, of a pregnant mother who was injected with medicine several times, leading to the death of her baby upon delivery. The mother was sharing a bed with 3 women in a charity ward in Marawi.
Another pregnant mother and her company, said Gutoc-Tomawis, were interrogated for hours by the AFP and the Pagadian local government because they were caught carrying dextrose in their bags.
"Bawal po ba ang dextrose sa isang buntis na babae? Because ang faith healer niya said, 'Dapat may dextrose ka. Baka manganak ka.' (Dextrose is not allowed for a pregnant woman? Her faith healer told her, 'You should have dextrose. You might give birth.') They were taken in for a whole day of questioning," she said.
'Consequences of war'
Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin then asked Año to give a categorical answer on whether human rights abuses are being committed by the AFP.
Año called such violations as "consequences of war" that the military did not intend to commit.
"The consequences of war – these are the things that really we do not want to happen. We are sensitive to the needs of the people of Mindanao, even Marawi. Even po 'yung cadaver ng Maute, sinu-supervise natin 'yung paglibing (We even supervise the recovery of Maute members' cadavers)," said Año.
He assured the public the AFP will "avoid any inconvenience" among the Marawi residents.
"But one thing that we will assure to you: We never intend to harm or violate any human right. In fact, we welcome any appropriate complaint… and we will sanction those who will [be proven to have committed them]," he said. – Rappler.com
Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at email@example.com or tweet @maracepeda.