CHR sends team to probe offenses against women amid Marawi crisis

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 4) — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is investigating claims of offenses against women amid the Marawi crisis.

"We sent a team from central office — a five-woman team to look more closely into the reports we're receiving about discrimination, statements that may not be... culturally appropriate," CHR Chairman Chito Gascon told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday.

"The purpose is to look more deeply into... forced marriages, statements about behaving, otherwise they would be raped," he added.

Gascon said the team was dispatched on Saturday to evacuation centers in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.

Over 300,000 were displaced since May 23, when members of the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group clashed with government forces in the city. The conflict prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law across Mindanao.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) SAID on June 27 Maute fighters forced their female hostages into marriage. Joint Task Force Marawi Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera called the terrorists "evil personalities" for their disrespect of women.

Concerns about offenses to women, this time from the AFP, also arose after women's party-list Gabriela announced they received reports of Maranao women getting rape threats.

"May nag-ulat din ng pananakot sa kababaihan, iyong kung hindi kayo aalis, sige rarape-in namin kayo... Iyon ang sinabi ng sundalo," Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said on June 22.

[Translation: There were reports of threats to the women, saying if you don't leave, we'll rape you... Soldiers said that.]

The Defense Department and Malacanang dismissed the claim as "fake news" and "part of the propaganda" by supposed critics.

Gabriela Secretary General Joms Salvador said on June 27 the women's fear "is real, considering the AFP's brutal record of sexual violence against civilians."

"In the context of a conflict, where there are armed groups on other side, people get hurt in the crossfire, in the middle," said Gascon. "The perpetrators could definitely be either law enforcement or armed personnel of government... but also actions made by terrorists or criminals."

He added that while the CHR has yet to receive a complaint, it is verifying reports it received of abuse and religious profiling.

CHR to document Maute offenses

Gascon said they will assist law enforcement agencies in the documentation of human rights abuses of the Maute Group, even though CHR does not have the authority to file cases against them.

"[The documentation] could constitute evidence for the purposes of holding them accountable — either for national justice mechanisms, or actually even international mechanisms," said Gascon.

Gascon also clarified the role of the CHR as a monitoring and investigating body for state abuse. The clarification came amid criticism that the CHR protects criminals.

Under Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, the CHR is expected to "monitor the Philippine Government’s compliance with international treaty on human rights."

"The [CHR] is concerned about all forms of violence and all forms of violations of human rights, whether by public or private individuals. But in a particular sense, we look closely into when a state violates those rights," said Gascon.

"When individuals, private persons violate the rights of others, we have a whole system of laws — the police, the prosecutor, the judge, the jail warden and so on — that will weigh upon that issue," he added. "But when the state violates... that's where the [CHR] closely monitors what the state does, and if it's conforming to human rights standards or not."

Effect of Duterte rape joke?

Gascon also expressed fear that soldiers were egged on by a controversial quip by the President.

"It's just unfortunate that early on, the President himself, perhaps jokingly, used the R word, and when it's heard by troops on the ground... it might create ripples," said Gascon, referring to rape.

Speaking to soldiers in Iligan City on May 26, Duterte said, "Ako na ang magpakulong sa inyo. 'Pag naka-rape ka ng tatlo, aminin ko na akin 'yun. 'Pag nag-asawa ka ng pang-apat, t*** i** bugbugin ka."

[Translation: I will go to jail for you. If you rape three people, I will admit that I did it. If you get a fourth wife, son of a w***e, I will punch you.]

"Words are important... When the words are made by the chief executive and commander-in-chief — 'Go ahead and rape,' 'Kill, it will be bloody' — these words have effect," said Gascon.

"We need to constantly remind public officials, particularly those that are wielding... arms, that they are subject to the rules of war and established police operation procedures. They must comply with that," he added.

Gascon also said that abusive military or policemen "cannot use words of superior officials as basis to deny liability if they have committed these wrongful acts."