The military on Thursday denied that soldiers and paramilitary elements are behind the killing of some anti-mining activists.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. stressed that extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses are not part of their policy.
“It has never been the policy of the AFP to use force beyond legal means,” Burgos said in a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Burgos was reacting to the claim of New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) that it had documented three incidents of killings of environment activists since October.
The three anti-mining activists were allegedly slain by paramilitary forces that might have links with the AFP.
The HRW also claimed that President Aquino has done little to stop attacks on environmental activists.
Burgos challenged the HRW to present proof that the paramilitary troops, which are being supervised by Army personnel, are involved in the killing of mining critics.
“That claim has to be supported with pieces of evidence. The AFP has been open in terms of investigation like this. We will cooperate with investigating agencies,” he said.
Burgos assured that soldiers and militia men are educated about the importance of upholding human rights in all their operations.
“We have been conducting troop education and information on upholding the rule of law, protection of human rights and seminar on rules of engagement,” he said.
Burgos said the militiamen and Army soldiers are even involved in programs aimed at preserving the environment.
“If they (HRW) have complaints, they should file it before the proper venue. When it comes to investigation, we will be cooperating,” he said, adding that the AFP would not condone any wrongdoings by soldiers.
Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said they are saddened by the “relentless flurry of accusations” hurled against them.
“Our soldiers are aware of their great responsibility of placing human rights protection on top of the list every time they carry out mandated tasks,” Cabunoc said in a statement.
“Our soldiers have shown compassion even to those who insist to engage in a shooting war with them,” he added.
Cabunoc said he is wondering why their critics are not noticing the atrocities committed by communist rebels.