human rights in the Philippines

Stop airstrikes in hinterland villages, rights groups ask AFP

Reymund Titong

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Stop airstrikes in hinterland villages, rights groups ask AFP

DEMONSTRATION. Activists troop to the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to call for the cessation of airstrikes in countryside areas, on April 5, 2024.

courtesy of Katribu

The military assures that it adheres to the rules of engagement, and that it makes sure soldiers are at least a kilometer away from residential areas during their operations

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – Human rights groups have called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to cease airstrikes against suspected rebels at the expense of communities in the countryside.

Beverly Longid, convenor of Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, said the attacks were indiscriminate and characterized by excessive force and have impacted the innocent and livelihoods of people living in hinterland communities.

Katribu said the recent series of bombings in Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur, and Pilar in Abra, on April 2 and 3, forced the evacuation of 700 residents.

The group said the encounters have led to evacuations and class cancellations as pursuit operations unfolded, including military airstrikes that persisted for hours. These airstrikes, it said, caused damage to livelihoods and properties in the communities.

The series of encounters in the country resulted from heightened military operations by the AFP aimed at eliminating all guerrilla fronts of the New People’s Army (NPA). However, Katribu said, the military campaign has negatively impacted communities and endangered villagers.

In Negros Occidental, the February 21 encounter of the Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion against a group of eight suspected members of the NPA also led to airstrikes, forcing the evacuation of many families.

Two alleged NPA members and a farmer claimed by the Army to belong to the dismantled NPA’s Northern Negros Front were killed in the clashes.

Negros Bishop Gerardo Alminaza criticized the military airstrikes, calling them “disproportionate.” He added that such actions caused fear, panic, anxiety, and damage to properties.

In less than a week, another alleged encounter occurred in the area of operation of the 61st Infantry Battalion in San Joaquin town in Iloilo province on February 28 against a band of 20 suspected communist rebels.

Video footage taken during an alleged airstrike circulated.

However, the military explained that it was their surveillance plane hovering around the area. 

Longid said, “These bombings, described by locals as overkill, are not only a gross violation of human rights but also a reckless display of force.” 

Prior attacks 

Longid previously called on the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, to investigate indigenous peoples (IP) rights violations in the islands of Panay and Negros, expressing deep concern about how the AFP was handling its counterinsurgency efforts.

The week-long armed encounters in Himamaylan City in October 2022 severely damaged the city’s ancestral lands, forcing 18,000 residents to flee their homes and leave their livelihoods behind, she said.

Longid alleged that the government uses the whole-of-nation approach through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) against indigenous peoples, especially those opposed to oppressive state policies.

“The trauma inflicted upon innocent civilians, especially women and children, is immeasurable and demands urgent attention,” she said.


On Friday, April 5, various progressive groups gathered at the headquarters of the AFP in Camp Aguinaldo, condemning the recent series of bombings that have ravaged communities, including those in Ilocos Sur and Abra.

“We appeal to all peace-loving Filipinos to support the affected communities. Together, let us condemn these senseless acts of violence and urge the AFP to cease its attacks on communities,” Longid said.

Lieutenant Colonel J-Jay Javines, public information chief of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, told Rappler on Monday, April 8, they set some parameters before conducting airstrikes against the NPA to protect the residents.

“We always adhere to our rules of engagement in every operation. Before launching airstrikes, we have specific parameters that we follow. These parameters include ensuring that we are at least one kilometer away from residential areas and far from any living animals,” he said. –

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