Abra POW release urged

BAGUIO CITY — In a press statement, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) calls on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to respect the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) as it demanded the release of Miguel Baliao, earlier reported as a prisoner-of-war (POW).

Baliao was reportedly unarmed when taken from community folk treating his wounds by elements of the AFP after a reported New People’s Army (NPA) raid of an AFP detachment in Gangal, Sallapadan, Abra on June 7, 2008.

CHRA in its statement said, “Baliao, an alleged NPA guerrilla who was wounded and captured” yet “to date no criminal or civil charges has been filed against him.”

CHRA Secretary-general Jude Baggo said the AFP may have the right to detain Baliao and even if charges are filed against him, he should be under the custody of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Baggo explained that under the provisions of the International Humanitarian Law, Baliao is considered a hors de combat and is entitled to protection as a POW. Article 41, Safeguard of an enemy hors de combat of the Protocol I of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) states that “a person who is recognized or who, in the circumstances, should be recognized to be hors de combat shall not be made the object of attack.”

According to IHL definitions a person is hors de combat if (a) he is in the power of an adverse Party; (b) he clearly expresses an intention to surrender; or© he has been rendered unconscious or is otherwise incapacitated by wounds or sickness, and therefore is incapable of defending himself; provided that in any of these cases he abstains from any hostile act and does not attempt to escape.

The article also provided that “When persons entitled to protection as prisoners of war have fallen into the power of an adverse Party under unusual conditions of combat which prevent their evacuation as provided for in Part III, Section I, of the Third Convention, they shall be released and all feasible precautions shall be taken to ensure their safety.”

According to human rights advocates, Baliao was captured while receiving emergency first aid medical attention from community members after an encounter between elements of the 50th IB, 5th ID of the AFP and alleged NPA members. For two days, while in the custody of the AFP, his wounds were left unattended until on June 9 when he was finally admitted at the Gabriela Silang General Hospital (GSGH) in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

“Soldiers prevented Baliao’s family from visiting him. He was heavily guarded by armed soldiers even at the GSGH, intimidating the medical professionals attending to him and the immediate family,” said Baggo.

A few days later he was transferred to the military hospital in Upi, Gamu, Isabela, where he is being arbitrarily detained in the said military camp.

The AFP also threatened Baliao’s family that physical harm could come to the detainee or that his brother, an officer of the AFP will be dismissed from service should they bring the matter to court.

Military officials even tried to trick Baliao into signing a document, supposedly and Affidavit of Voluntary Hospital Confinement, which in reality is an Affidavit of Voluntary Custody. He refused to sign the said document.

Human rights advocates from the CHRA and lawyers who tried to visit Baliao were also denied and subjected to military interrogation. # CHRA Release

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