The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is faced yet with another big challenge to prove that some US soldiers, along with those from the Philippine armed forces, are directly involved in killing one of their own and a couple of innocent civilians, including two children, last Feb. 4 in Sulu Island, southern Philippines.
In published reports, the alleged massacre started after a P3 Orion turboprop surveillance plane spotted a group of armed suspects believed to be members of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf element in that village where the incident took place. A top Philippine commander in Jolo said government soldiers were ambushed in the same village last August, leading to some casualties.
CHR investigators, along with those from the province dispatched by Sulu Gov. Abdusakar Tan to probe on the incident, are facing a blank wall as to who were responsible for the killings. All the US military officials could do is refer the matter to the US Embassy in Manila. But under the Philippine Constitution, American soldiers are not allowed to engage in combat even if they are stationed in the country to help train Filipino soldiers in their fight against the terrorist groups in Mindanao.
Apart from training Filipino soldiers in their efforts to quash terroristic activities in the south, American soldiers are also helping the local governments in their various development projects in the area.
Now, the real test is whether the CHR will have the teeth to go after the military personnel involved in the killings. It is public knowledge that this is not the first time that the same incident happened in the past, where some soldiers just went scot-free without being punished. Because all the CHR can do is gather all the evidences and file the criminal cases in the proper court against those whom it believed were involved in the commission of the crime. But the ball will still be in the hands of the local courts, wihch will initially hear the criminal cases filed against those implicated in the case.
It is difficult to presume now as what will happen when the accused are transferred somewhere else so that serving the summons to appear in court would be another hurdle to make. If this happens, it would be another futile attempt on the part of the government to be just spending so much for nothing.
However, if Governor Tan had already ordered the local police to file criminal cases against the suspects, so be it. What the relatives can do is to wait and see what will happen next. From here, we can see how justice is being served for those who have less in life against those who have the influence in government.
Next time, it would be best if the military should be very careful during actual operations because the extremist elements can easily blend with the civilian population. When this happens, the possibility of the innocent civilians being hit in the cross-fires is imminent.