CHALOKA BEYANI, the United Nations special expert on internally displaced people, had harsh words for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Beyani, who was investigating the plight of hundreds of internally displaced members of the Lumad ethnic minority group, castigated the AFP for attributing to him an assessment of the situation that was “incorrect, unacceptable, and … a gross distortion of my views.”

He was in the Philippines from July 21 to July 31 at the invitation of the government.

The AFP alleged that Beyani had declared that the 700 Lumad who had taken shelter in a church compound in Davao City on southern Mindanao island were victims of “human trafficking.” Beyani said he was “appalled” by the AFP’s misrepresentation of his views.

“The indigenous peoples whom I interviewed informed me that they relocated to this facility freely and in response to the militarization of their lands and territories and forced recruitment into paramilitary groups operating under the auspices of the AFP,” he said in a statement.

This illustrates the yawning gap between the AFP’s rhetoric on respect for human rights and the far more abusive reality. The AFP has a well-documented track record of trying to create the illusion of being a rights-respecting entity while ignoring serious rights abuseswithin its ranks. Those efforts, which include the operations of the AFP’s Human Rights Office, paint a veneer of proactive concern about rights abuses to hide the military abuses that local activists – and UN officials like Beyani – routinely expose.

A spokesman for the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command has apologized and resigned over the Beyani statement fiasco. But the AFP owe Beyani and the Philippine people accountability, not just an apology.

This episode highlights the urgent need for AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri to address the rot within its ranks and get serious about tackling human rights abuses. One important place to look would be a thorough and transparent inquiry into the role played by the military and paramilitary groups in the displacement of Filipinos, particularly vulnerable ethnic minority groups, in conflict zones in Mindanao. By Carlos H. Conde, Researcher, Asia Division

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