The Honourable Chrystia Freeland
Minister of Foreign Affairs
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2
Dear Honourable Freeland,
I am writing on behalf of the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) – Canada to bring to your attention our concerns over military attacks on civilian targets in the Philippines and the potential connection to Canada.
Over the past two weeks, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been conducting a number of aerial strikes on indigenous and rural communities. The escalation of military aerial bombardment on civilians follows the decision of President Duterte on February 5, 2016 to call off the Peace Talks between the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDFP). On March 9, the President instructed the military to ‘drop bombs’ on rebels and consider civilian casualties as ‘collateral damage’. We are concerned that government forces could be using the Bell 412EP helicopters Canada sold in 2014 to the Philippine Army for these bombing attacks.
Since President Duterte’s declaration, the human rights organization, Karapatan, has reported at least 3 cases of military aerial bombings.
· On March 11, at around 2pm, government troops who were conducting intensive operations in the province of Compostela Valley dropped at least ten bombs on three villages in the town of Mabini.
· In a separate incident on the same day, March 11, a local organization, Suara Bangsamoro reported four bombs were dropped in Barangay Andabit, Maguindanao from FA-50 fighter jets from the 57th IBPA forcing villagers to evacuate to neighbouring communities.
· On March 13, members of a humanitarian mission led by Karapatan observed at least 2 Huey military helicopters hovering over the communities where troops of the Philippine Army were undertaking intensive operations in two villages in the town of Nasugbo, Batangas province.
· On March 16, at least 14 bombs were dropped by members of the Philippine Army who were conducting military operations in the town of Malibcong, Abra province.
While there are no reports of civilian deaths caused by the military bombings, they have sown terror among the villagers causing them immense suffering. Close to 650 families had been forcibly evacuated. In one case, the evacuees included 200 children. The bombings in Malibcong, Abra caused forest fires and burned rice fields.
When the Canadian government announced the sale of the 8 Bell 412EP helicopters to the Philippine Army in 2014, we raised our concerns to the government and parliamentarians that the helicopters might be used against civilian communities in military operations such as those now taking place.
Our concern that the Canadian helicopters might be used in such bombings follows reports by human rights organizations and Philippine newspapers about military helicopter bombings during counter-insurgency operations against the New People’s Army (NPA) where civilians were killed, injured and forced to flee.
Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs assured us in 2014 that Canada’s military export control guidelines were followed in the sale of the Bell 412 helicopters. However, has there been follow-up to ensure respect of the guidelines?
Information we have gathered from internet sites about the Philippine Air Force (PAF) says that 3 of the Bell 412EP helicopters were commissioned “for VIP and 5 as combat utility helicopters.” The 5 combat utility helicopters were commissioned to PAF’s 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing based in Benito Ebuen Air Base, which is responsible for conducting tactical helicopter operations in support of the Philippine Air Force and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Among the uses of combat utility helicopters are ground attacks and air assaults. Additionally, we’ve learned that another Canadian company, Calgary-based Eagle Copters Ltd, has been involved in another helicopter deal to the Philippines.
In view of the escalating occurrences of military bombings on civilian communities and President Duterte’s instruction to the military to use aerial bombings in the war against the NPA and to disregard the harm they inflict on civilian communities,
· We wish to know if the Bell 412EP helicopters and other helicopters sold by Canada to the Philippine Army are being used in these bombing operations.
· We strongly urge the Canadian government to assess whether the criteria for the sale of the helicopters are being observed by the Philippine Army
· We call on the Canadian government to suspend all sales of military goods and all defense-related assistance to and cooperation with the Philippine Government
· We urge the Canadian government to call on President Duterte to put an immediate stop to the military aerial bombings on civilian communities and instead to vigorously pursue the continuation of the Peace Talks between the GRP and NDFP.
We look forward to hearing from the Minister’s office about this troubling issue and about measures being taken to ensure that Canada is not implicated in operations by the Philippine military against civilian communities through its sales of military goods, training and other defense-related interests.
(Ms.) Bern Jagunos (on behalf of the ICHRP – Canada)
Attachment(s) from International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines | View attachments on the web
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Letter to Minister Freeland re-military bombings_March 2017.doc