The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has started an independent investigation on the deaths of National Democratic Front (NDF) consultant Ericson Acosta and a peasant organizer in Negros Occidental on December 1.
In a statement, the CHR said the investigation is being conducted by its regional office in Region VII.
“It is expedient to probe the truth and deliver justice in all allegations of arbitrary killing that desecrate the right to life,” the CHR said. “As the State has the prime duty to protect life, CHR expects parallel probe by the concerned authorities.”
The CHR also asked the cooperation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to ensure the conduct of a swift and impartial investigation.
Human rights groups alliance Karapatan earlier called on the commission to look into the incident after the NDF-Negros reported that Acosta and his companion Joseph Jimenez were killed in a military operation.
Citing the initial report of NDF-Negros, Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay earlier said Acosta and Jimenez were captured alive as of 2 a.m. of November 30 in Sitio Makilo, Barangay Camansi in the city but were later tagged by the AFP as casualties in an encounter.
Residents also said that the bodies of the two bore stab wounds, she said.
AFP spokesperson Medel Aguilar earlier dismissed the NDF’s report as “lies” and said the group was trying to discredit the military. He also said reports that the victim sustained stab wounds were “fabricated.”
On Thursday, Aguilar said that while the AFP welcomes the move of the CHR to investigate the deaths of Acosta and Jimenez, it would still stand by its statement that the two were killed in an encounter. “Yes (we would stand by our statement)…We trust our soldiers. They are risking their lives in the performance of their duties,” he added.
According to Aguilar, the soldiers have no reason to lie about the incident.
Meanwhile, 3rd Infantry Division commander and acting Visayas Command commander Major General Benedict Arevalo denied that human rights were violated in the operation. Arevalo also dismissed the claims that Acosta and Jimenez were not armed. He said there were photos coming out showing Acosta carrying firearms as he reiterated that Acosta was an NPA member.
The CHR meanwhile said it is supporting the Department of Interior and Local Government for its new “Buhay Ingatan, Droga’y Ayawan” or BIDA program that seeks to combat the drug problem through demand reduction and rehabilitation of persons who use drugs.
“We acknowledge the expression of the commitment of DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos, Jr. to implement the new campaign ‘within the framework of the law and with respect for human rights and with focus on rehabilitation and socio-economic development,’” the CHR said.
The BIDA program involves local government units, national government agencies and other stakeholders.
Apart from the drug enforcement agencies, such as the Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and National Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Social Welfare and Development is expected to help in rehabilitation interventions.
The Department of Trade and Industry would help in livelihood programs, while the Department of Labor and Employment could assist in finding job opportunities. Rio N. Araja