ILOILO Province – Thirty-three out of 46 indigenous families have evacuated from the village proper of Cabatangan to the town proper of Lambunao of this province to ensure their safety from months of continued military operations.
In a firefight last February 4 with the New People’s Army (NPA), the villagers reported that the military used civilians especially children, ages 11 to 15, as shields against the NPA.
According to a local villager who refused to be named, the military even told them that if they run, they will be shot.
“They also shot the barangay hall and the day care center despite knowing that their enemies are not even there,” added the villager.
In a report by the indigenous group TUMANDUK, military troops from the 61st Infantry Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army have been operating in the village since October 2016. This is despite the declaration of indefinite unilateral ceasefire against the NPA by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The ceasefire was lifted however last February 3 by President Duterte followed by the declaration of an all-out war against the NPA by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“Military activities include combat operations, psychological warfare, and surveillance. They also made the barangay hall, day care center, and other civilian structures their barracks and joined civilian populations despite being armed,” said TUMANDUK in their report.
“These are all violations to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),” the TUMANDUK stressed.
In an earlier fact sheet sent by affected children and families of Cabatangan to the human rights group Panay-Alliance Karapatan, they said the Philippine Army sent additional 40 troops to their village after the firefight.
They also reported that the military are spreading fear through their statement that if they would bear another blow from the NPA, they, the villagers, would carry the consequences.
TUMANDUK also reported that the military have started gambling activities in the village after their deployment.
“After the evacuation, the military forcibly enter the abandoned houses to find for evidences that would point to the locals who they suspect are supporters of the NPA,” added the TUMANDUK.
The school’s activities and classes have stopped since February 5 after the incident, added the report.
Roughly nine households remain in the village proper as of press time. (panaytoday.net)