Catholic and Protestant Church leaders called on Philippine authorities and the country’s Commission on Human Rights to investigate what they described as “scorched-earth tactics” in the aerial bombing of a village in the province of Iloilo.
“With the harrowing reports of an intensive aerial bombing mission … that led to the death of at least eight persons,” the religious leaders called for “sobriety and pause” on the government’s alleged “scorched-earth attacks.”
Among those who signed the joint statement released on Tuesday, December 7, were Catholic Bishop Antonio Ledesma and Protestant Bishop Rex RB. Reyes Jr. for the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform and Bishop Rhee Timbang of the group Pilgrims for Peace.
The aerial bomb attack was reported to have occurred in the early morning of December 1 in a forested area in the town of Miag-ao near the border of Iloilo and Antique provinces.
Human rights groups later reported that the remains of seven people were recovered in the area and severed body parts from an eighth individual.
Two craters were left by the bombings: the larger one reportedly measuring 15 feet deep and 20 feet in diameter.
“These bombings are not an isolated incident,” said the peace groups’ statement. A 500-pound bomb was reportedly dropped by the military in Las Navas town in Northern Samar province on October 26.
A series of aerial bombing operations were also carried out in Bukidnon province after the killing of communist commander Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos in late October.
The bombings were reportedly part of the government’s effort to flush out or finish off the communist insurgent groups in the area.
“However, by their very nature, aerial bombings result in extensive destruction and are likely to cause death or injury to civilians and destruction of civilian properties,” said the Church leaders in their statement.
The religious leaders said the recent bombings in Miag-ao “raise concern as a possible violation of International Humanitarian Law,” which prohibits the use of means of warfare that result in superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.
“We thus call on the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the recent bombings, especially for violations of IHL,” read the group’s statement.
“As peace advocates, we urge peace-building in addressing the roots of armed conflict, rather than continuing these scorched-earth tactics in the government’s counter-insurgency campaign,” it added.
“The violence of these bombings not only destroys human lives, livelihoods, and the environment, but it also traumatizes those in surrounding communities,” said the peace groups.
They also appealed to the Filipino people “to consider the importance of peacemaking as you cast your ballots” in next year’s national elections.
“We truly pray that the next administration will resume peace talks to arrive at a negotiated political settlement of the armed conflict, rather than continue the current approach of intensified violence, destruction, and violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law,” said the groups.