Initial Findings: Deaths of Moro Children from Military Aerial Bombing


I managed to interview one of the survivors today (September 10), a 13 year old boy, at the hospital. Multiple shrapnel wounds on both legs. Also proceeded to the place where the incident happened and managed to interview the boy's mother who, all in all, lost her husband and 5 of her children, the youngest being 2 years old. One of her children who died was pregnant.

The latest statements from the government military (AFP) say that the airplanes were fired at from the victims' boat and that the military was only retaliating. Here's the version of the civilian survivors and witnesses.

The Manungal family were on board two boats. They had just returned to their home in Barangay Tee, Municipality of Datu Piang, Maguindanao when they noticed that there was a lull in the military offensive and bombing.

However, once they saw planes and helicopters hovering again and bombs started to fall around their village, they hurriedly boarded the boats and made their way along the marsh towards the bank that was straddling the highway. Other residents in the village also boarded their own boats and thus a convoy of boats made their way to the safety of the highway. The Manungal boats were at the rear of the convoy.

When they were around 400 meters away from the bank of the marsh right next to the highway, they were forced to stop to prevent the boat from sinking. Besides the seven passengers (the father and 6 of his children), the front of the boat was also loaded with rice. At that point, helicopter were seen hovering overhead. Soon thereafter, another aircraft (a plane) shot a rocket at the boat which exploded around a meter from the boat. It was that rocket which led to the immediate deaths of the father and 4 of his children. The fifth one died at the town hospital. Only one child survived. The passengers of the other boat at the rear of the convoy of boats tried to rescue the passengers of the boat that got hit and brought them to the bank next to the highway.

The incident happened around 10a.m. There were people on the highway right beside the bank of the marsh who were witnessing the event as it was transpiring. Barangay officials and a member of the civilian militia tried to appeal to the military officials stationed along the bank to tell the air force men not to fire at the boats because on board were civilians trying to escape the military offensive. However, moments later, an order was overheard on the radio "birahin na yan" ("fire at them"). The witnesses along the highway said that it was impossible for the pilots or the military men on the highway not to notice that the passengers of the boats were civilians. Most of the victims were young and small children. Besides, the boats were only 200 meters away from the highway when they were fired upon.

Both the survivors and civilian witnesses say that there were no boats in the vicinity of the victims that were firing at the military aircrafts. This is to belie the military's claim that they were merely retaliating upon receiving fire from one of the boats in the convoy.

After we visited the mother to interview her, we proceeded to conduct an ocular inspection of the portion of the highway from which the place of incident could be clearly seen. However, we noticed the arrival of the military personnel at the house of the mother. When we inquired later on what the military men told her, she said they gave her P5thousand plus three bags of rice. A day earlier, they gave her P10 thousand.

Incidentally, the military initially claimed that it did not fire any ordinance or ammunition at the boats. But one of the attending physicians at the hospital where the survivor is confined said on TV tonight that his wounds are shrapnel wounds, meaning, it came from military ordinance.

On the way back to Cotabato City, we passed by several refugee encampments. It seems the civilians have occupied whatever public place available. From the very nature of their temporary structures, it does not seem to offer any protection from the elements. It is now monsoon season and there's heavy rain everyday, particularly late in the afternoon and in the evening.

I inquired if and how they are able to observe fasting during Ramadan while staying in the refugee centers. Their response was that some of them can no longer observe it due to the difficult conditions at the centers.

The interviews of the survivors of the bombing incident were videotaped although they were conducted in the vernacular (Maguindanon).

Attached are pictures of three of the victims. CAUTION: THE PICTURES ARE GRAPHIC!

Again, law groups are reiterating their earlier appeals to both sides of the conflict to respect and uphold Protocol II of the Geneva Convention on Non-International Armed Conflicts, particularly as it relates to the protection of civilians.

Again, we reiterate that the humanitarian crisis we see now is a direct offshoot of the scuttling of the peace process. We therefore call on everyone, particularly those who have been very vocal in their opposition to the peace process to be more circumspect about the consequences of their opposition to the MOA. The cavalier attitude of many people towards the peace process may proceed from the fact that it is not they who bear the brunt of such consequences. Rather, it is the people residing in the conflict affected areas. The least that we owe them is to educate ourself about the conflict and its roots and how the peace process is trying to provide a long-term and sustainable solution. Knee-jerk reactions without such self-education all too often leads to rash decisions, all too often provide a fertile ground to foment and perpetuate the conflict.

Atty. Zainudin Malang