The atrocities of war

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

Day of Valor (Araw ng Kagitingan) is a national observance in the Philippines commemorating the fall of Bataan to Japanese troops during World War II. | Photo by Troi Santos

Graphic photos and videos of the atrocities supposedly committed by Russian soldiers in the Ukrainian town of Bucha have left the world horrified and outraged.

One can only imagine the suffering that the hundreds of victims went through, judging from the dreadful images – corpses littering the streets, some of them apparently executed with hands tied behind their backs and bullet holes in their heads; burned bodies piled together with a small blackened foot protruding, apparently belonging to a child; a man beside a toppled bicycle who still had a bag of groceries clutched in his hand; a shallow mass grave with fingers and other body parts jutting; homes and buildings reduced to rubble.

Russian officials have denied responsibility for what is now known as the Bucha massacre, saying Ukraine was responsible for the killings as Russian troops already left the village by the end of March. Kremlin-backed media meanwhile are insisting that the news about Bucha is fake and that the bodies have been staged for western media.

But high-resolution satellite images as early as March 18 – when Russian troops were still present in Bucha – show bodies were strewn in the streets. A drone video of a man riding a bicycle being gunned down by Russian soldiers has also surfaced. According to a report by German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, members of the German foreign intelligence service testified before a parliamentary committee that they intercepted Russian radio chatter about the massacre in Bucha.

“War is something that everyone should fear the most because that is where the most horrific of inhumanities usually occur.”

It is not only in Bucha where atrocities have been committed but in many places such as Irpin, Hostomel, and Mariupol where many children taking shelter in a theater were bombed. In the village of Yahidne located near Chernihiv, 130 people including children and a two-month-old baby were held in a basement for four weeks, the space so cramped that some had to sleep standing up. When several elderly people died possibly due to suffocation, the bodies could not be immediately removed, so the living had to sleep with the dead for days, the survivors narrated to BBC.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russia must be held accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine, describing its presence in the UN Human Rights Council as farcical and called for Russia’s removal.

When the UN General Assembly put to a vote a resolution that would suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, I recommended to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin that we should support the resolution because it’s the right thing to do. We joined 93 nations that voted “Yes” to the resolution, signifying in no uncertain terms that we want to hold accountable those responsible for the atrocities in Ukraine.

War is something that everyone should fear the most because that is where the most horrific of inhumanities usually occur. While our relationship with Japan is at its best today, the memories of what happened during World War II remain. From April 9 to April 17 in 1942, close to 80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war were forced to march some 65 miles from Bataan to Pampanga to Tarlac where internment camps were located. Those who collapsed due to hunger and weakness were struck with bayonets, while others were randomly shot along the way. This became known as the Bataan Death March – commemorated not only in the Philippines but in many cities across the US.

During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army engaged in kidnapping and torture as well as summary executions and massacre of South Vietnamese men, women, and children including babies, while American prisoners of war were subjected to physical and psychological torture. Yet American troops themselves also committed atrocities, including murder against those whom they suspected of being Viet Cong.

“If anything, what is happening in Ukraine is a reminder that we can never take our freedom for granted. We should always be prepared to fight for our freedom when necessary.”

Many Filipinos not only here in the United States but many of those who have seen the suffering of the people during wartime know that can very well happen to any country including the Philippines. It is a reminder of why we need to make sure we have the means to protect ourselves – never allowing any nation to ever invade our shores.

Now more than ever, we should appreciate all the efforts that have been or are being made to strengthen the capability of our armed forces. To the credit of President Duterte, modernizing our armed forces has always been a priority of his administration, and this is evident in the acquisition of military equipment such as Black Hawk helicopters, support aircraft, and two brand new missile frigates in the past two years alone.

Last March, the Philippine Air Force received the first two units of T-129 ATAK helicopters, while some of the newly acquired equipment for the Philippine Army include the 12 units of ATMOS (autonomous truck-mounted howitzer system) 155mm/52 caliber self-propelled gun systems and 15 armored mortar carriers equipped with 120mm mounted mortar systems.

During the visit of Philippine Army chief Lieutenant General Romeo Brawner Jr. to the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., we talked about strengthening the capability of the troops and professionalizing them, as well as the continuing efforts to modernize the AFP. Our relationship with the US continues to be significantly important with the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises between Philippine and US troops going a long way in preparing our soldiers to cohesively and efficiently respond as a team during times of potential crisis.

If anything, what is happening in Ukraine is a reminder that we can never take our freedom for granted. We should always be prepared to fight for our freedom when necessary.


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