A human rights group based in Canada has asked the Canadian foreign affairs ministry to inquire if helicopters sold to the Philippine military are being used in aerial strikes that have alleged targeted civilian communities.
Bern Jagunos of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) wrote to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland following reports that airstrikes during operations against communist rebels.
The strikes reportedly razed a forest and destroyed farms tilled by indigenous people in the town of Malibcong, Abra.
The Malibcong bombings and other incidents reported in Compostela Valley and Maguindanao provinces followed President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to the military early this month to “go ahead, flatten the hills” by launching air strikes against the New People’s Army and “If there’s collateral damage, pasensiya (too bad).”
While acknowledging that no civilian deaths were caused by the bombardment, Jagunos said they have terrorized communities and sent hundreds of families fleeing their homes.
Jagunos reminded Freeland that they had raised these concerns as early as 2014 when the Canadian government announced the sale of eight Bell 412EP choppers to the Philippines, five of which have been deployed as combat utility helicopters.
While assurances were given then that the sale of the aircraft complied with Canada’s military export control guidelines, she wanted to know, “has there been a follow-up to ensure respect of the guidelines?”
“Additionally, we’ve learned that another Canadian company, Calgary-based Eagle Copters Ltd., has been involved in another helicopter deal to the Philippines,” Jagunos pointed out.
“We strongly urge the Canadian government to assess whether the criteria for the sale of the helicopters are being observed by the Philippine Army; we call on the Canadian government to suspend all sales of military goods and all defense-related assistance to and cooperation with the Philippine Government and we urge the Canadian government to call on President Duterte to put an immediate stop to the military aerial bombings on civilian communities and instead to vigorously pursue the continuation of the Peace Talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” Jagunos said.
The Toronto-based ICHRP-Canada is a network of organizations who are concerned about human rights and committed to working for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.
In the group’s letter to Freeland dated March 26, 2017, Jagunos said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been conducting a number of aerial strikes on indigenous and rural communities.
The escalation of military aerial bombardment on civilians follows the decision of President Duterte on February 5, 2016, to call off the Peace Talks between the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDFP), according to the letter.
“When the Canadian government announced the sale of the 8 Bell 412EP helicopters to the Philippine Army in 2014, we raised our concerns to the government and parliamentarians that the helicopters might be used against civilian communities in military operations such as those now taking place,” the letter recalled.
“We call on the Canadian government to suspend all sales of military goods and all defense-related assistance to and cooperation with the Philippine Government,” the letter also stated.