ILOILO City – Military troops under the 82nd Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was found to be using the anti-drug war campaign of the Duterte administration to threaten farmers and used barangay facilities as barracks during their stay in farmers’ communities, according to the recent fact-finding mission of local human rights group.
Panay Alliance-Karapatan, following the request of local farmers’ association Tubungan United Peasant Alliance (TUPA), led the team of 30 human rights advocates to a fact-finding mission on Monday, February 6 at Barangay Boloc, Tubungan, Iloilo where military presence and encampment has resulted in violations of farmers’ rights in the past months.
“The fact-finding mission aimed to investigate the human rights violations committed by the AFP against the people of Brgy. Boloc. In particular, farmers again became terrified because of the indiscriminate firing by soldiers in the latest February 1 incident when they encountered members of the New People’s Army (NPA),” Karapatan secretary general Reylan Vergara said.
February 1 incident
On February 1, a unit under the Napoleon Tumagtang Command of NPA-Southern Front launched two separate “active defense” actions against the Peace and Development Teams (PDT) of the military deployed inside NPA guerrilla zones notwithstanding the ceasefire declaration of President Duterte. They were said to be some 250 meters away from where the military is staying.
“The purpose of the action is to show to them the consequence of exploiting our sincere implementation of the ceasefire. This is also in response to the people’s demand to punish the military for disrupting peace and order in the community,” NPA Southern Front spokesperson Ka Ariston Remus said in their Facebook post.
The NPA accused the military of indiscriminate firing and putting the blame on the NPA. A farmer’s house was hit, with its roof, window and partition pierced by a bullet. Fortunately, none of its occupants was harmed.
“We condemn the indiscriminate firing of the military that hit a farmer’s house. The house is very far from where the incident happened and the NPA only fired with limited ammunition,” said Remus.
According to 82nd Commander Lieutenant Colonel Vener Morga, his men found five empty shells of an M16 armalite rifle from where the rebels were believed to have fired their guns.
The following day, the military called for a barangay assembly to get the approval of the residents for their encampment in the center of the barangay. Instead, they were asked by the residents to leave because they fear for their lives and that they are being used as shields by the military. The military pulled out of the barangay hall on February 3.
Violations of the military
“Initial data of the fact finding team revealed that the military has violated Section 22, Article 10 of RA 7610 where it states that (f) Public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and rural health units shall not be utilized for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots,” said Vergara.
The community reported that the military started to encamp at the barangay hall from December 25-26, 2016 and from December 28, 2016 to February 3, 2017.
“The war on drugs campaign of Duterte administration was also used by the military to threaten the farmers,” said Vergara.
“The military threatened us that if drug lords are easily killed, how much more us farmers. They can just easily plant drugs on us and kill us,” said Tatay Julie, 53, a farmer with five children.
During their stay, the military would intimidate the farmers and force them to claim that they or their relatives are members of the NPA, the residents said.
The local village chief was also forced to sign documents granting them to stay at the barangay hall despite the chief’s refusal.
Due to military presence at the barangay hall, the community and officials can no longer use it for their meetings.
“We can no longer use our barangay hall for our barangay sessions and our people are afraid to enter the hall because the military are there with their weapons and arms,” a farmer who refused to be identified told the fact-finding mission.
Lies and deceit
In an interview with local daily Panay News, 82IB commander Lieutenant Colonel Vener Morga admitted that it was true that they temporarily used the barangay hall, and claimed that this was approved by the barangay council and supported by Mayor Vicente Gargaritano of Tubungan.
But when Kagawad Carlos Talaman, a Kagawad of Brgy. Boloc, went to Mayor Vicente Gargaritano, Jr. to verify Morga’s claim, the mayor denied it.
“He said that it is not true and there is no order allowing them to stay at the barangay hall,” said Talaman.
Mayor Gargaritano added that it is the people who should be followed. “If they don’t want it then that’s it,” Talaman added quoting the mayor.
The barangay residents that gathered on February 6, 2017 signed a petition to prohibit army soldiers from camping within the barangay proper. The petition will be the basis of an official barangay resolution to be firmed up by the barangay council.
The result of the fact-finding team shall be endorsed to the Joint Monitoring Committee monitoring the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the first substantive agenda signed between the GRP and the NDFP.
Karapatan renewed its call for respect of the rights of the people, amid pronouncements of the AFP for renewed offensives versus the NPA as the government suspends peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front. (panaytoday.net)