Groups seek justice for IP student killed in a military operation

June 23, 2024

Several human rights groups condemned the extra-judicial killing of the 16-year-old Lumad student in Senator Ninoy Aquino town in Sultan Kudarat on June 8 in a military operation.

The victim, Kuni Cuba, was a Manobo-Dulangan youth and a recipient of the Indigenous Peoples’ scholarship program of the OMI Indigenous Peoples Mission.

Cuba was an incoming Grade 10 student.

According to reports, Cuba, his brother, and three others, including a 13-year-old child were heading home from a community event in Sitio Kiluding, Barangay Kiadsam, Sen. Ninoy Aquino (SNA) at around 5:00 a.m. when they encountered soldiers from the 7th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) who were purportedly conducting a military operation.

They were immediately fired at and accused of being part of the New People’s Army (NPA), said rights groups in a statement.

His friends survived the incident by hiding in the cornfields, but Cuba was killed.

Save Our Schools Network said soldiers have branded the victims as rebels in media interviews, claiming that they recovered a Caliber .30 Garand rifle.

The family denied the accusations of the military.

“These civilians are made out to have been killed in fabricated encounters between military or police forces and the New People’s Army (NPA),” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan.

Karapatan highlighted how civilians are being killed in what they referred to as fake encounters, having documented 67 victims under the term of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

As it stands, local news MindaNow Sentinel reported that Cuba’s parents and the 7th IBPA settled through the intervention of their town mayor, who attended the funeral of the victim along with church people from Oblates Mission, village officials, and soldiers of the 7th IBPA.

Local officials and church workers join the funeral of Kuni Cuba | Photo by Mayor Randy Ecija Jr.

Karapatan said this is an “apparent admission that the boy’s killing was a mistake.”

“It is a 180-degree turn from a statement made by 7th IBPA commanding officer Lt. Col. Tristan Vallescas to Bombo Radyo Koronadal just hours after Cuba’s killing, that his troops had allegedly encountered an NPA group with eight members led by Cuba,” Palabay said.

For SOS Network, the settlements were also insufficient, as it benefited the perpetrators to evade accountability for their crimes. They underscored how the recent killing bears a chilling resemblance to the Lianga Massacre on June 15, 2021, where a 12-year-old Lumad student and two others were killed and later labeled as rebels.

“While no words can truly console Kuni’s family, we stand in unwavering solidarity with them and all Lumad people fighting for their children’s right to education amidst escalating violence, militarization, and impunity in their ancestral lands,” said SOS Network, demanding justice for Kuni, his family, and all victims of Lumad killings.

The rights groups called for a swift, impartial, and unobstructed investigation by the Commission on Human Rights and other relevant agencies, with particular focus on the military’s use of excessive force.

This is not the first time that the military resorted to falsely branding minors as “child soldiers.” Similar incidents have been documented in the case book of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since 2001, highlighting these children as civilian casualties, which are blatant violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). 

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