Defense Undersecretary Franco Nemesio M. Gacal (Photo courtesy of DND) 

MANILA – The Department of National Defense (DND) on Friday underscored the importance of protecting civilians, detainees, the wounded and sick, and those who are affected by the hostilities during armed conflict.

This, as the agency led the commemoration of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Month in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City with the theme, “Upholding IHL as we Recover from the Pandemic: Bayanihan to Reduce the Suffering in Armed Conflict Toward Advancing the Gains of Peace and Reconciliation”.

Defense Undersecretary Franco Nemesio M. Gacal, representing DND officer-in-charge Senior Undersecretary Jose C. Faustino, led the officials and stakeholders who graced the event. Among those present were Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Executive Director lawyer Jacqueline Ann C. De Guia, Philippine Red Cross Chairperson Richard J. Gordon, International Committee of the Red Cross Regional Legal Adviser Sahar Haroon, Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat Executive Director, Undersecretary Severo S. Catura; lawyer Harry L. Roque, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Affairs Jesus C. Domingo, Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines National Coordinator Mr. Alfred B. Lubang, and lawyer Lorna Kapunan.

In his welcome remarks, DND Undersecretary for Strategic Assessment and Planning Ignacio Madriaga asserted the limits of armed conflict, that even the wounded and fallen enemy deserve to be treated with respect.

Guests and partners expressed their avid support for the implementation and integration of IHL in their respective fields and departments.

De Guia noted that the DND, through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and with the involvement of CHR, continually conducts capacity development and information and education programs on human rights and IHL on all levels of the military institution.

Roque, meanwhile, delivered the message of Vice President and Department of Education Secretary Sara Duterte, who underscored the protection of children from terrorist groups, especially in post-conflict areas, by instilling non-violent resolution practices at a young age.

Gordon, for his part, reminded the agencies that it is not just the policy-makers who should know about the IHL, but also the public.

In his message, Gacal emphasized the significance of the IHL in the performance of the mandates of the security sector.

“Despite the 'fog of war', our AFP personnel, including our brothers and sisters in the Philippine National Police and Philippine Coast Guard, uphold these IHL principles and protocols,” he said.

The DND executive also reiterated the provisions of Philippine laws such as Republic Act No. 9851 which penalizes both military and civilians for violations of IHL and other crimes against humanity.

“More than ever, both uniformed personnel and civilians must recognize the sanctity of life and the inherent dignity of every person. To do otherwise would be unthinkable,” he stated.

Gacal added that human rights and IHL must not be used as a tool for political play and deception.

Rather, it must be a bridge to connect opposing ideals and parties so that peaceful, collaborative, and progressive dialogue can occur.

In this regard, he urged those who still oppose the government through violent means, particularly the communist terrorist group (CTG), to stop using anti-personnel mines (APMs), which are explicitly prohibited under the Ottawa Convention or the Ant-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty of 1997.

He asked them, instead, to surrender their arms and rejoin mainstream society to be useful partners for the good of the Filipino nation.

“Your Department of National Defense fully recommits today and every day to uphold the letter and the spirit of International Humanitarian Law,” Gacal said. (PNA)