Despite unilateral ceasefires declared by government troops and the armed communist movement, soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continue to conduct counter-insurgency operations, leaving many communities terrified.
Reports from various sources across the country reveal that the situation in the countryside has hardly been peaceful, amidst advances in the peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Hermie Porton is among the hundreds of Bicolanos who travelled to Manila in time for protest actions marking December 10, International Human Rights Day. They are calling for an end to militarization and the government’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan.
Porton, spokesperson of Karapatan-Sorsogon, said that members of the 903rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army deployed in the towns of San Rafael and Castilla have been harassing farmers, even recently torturing a village official.
“Ang katwiran ng militar, si Duterte lamang ang nakipagkasundo. Kaming mga militar ay hindi. Di ba ang kanilang commander-in-chief ay si Duterte? Dapat igalang nila yun. Isaalang-alang nila nang sa gayon ay magkaroon ng tunay na kapayapaan sa ating bansa (The military says it is only Duterte who has struck an agreement, and not them. But isn’t Duterte their commander-in-chief? They should respect that, so that genuine peace can have a chance in our country), ” he said in an interview.
Cases in 43 provinces
According to a statement by the CPP, almost half a million civilians have been affected by AFP combat operations in 43 provinces and 146 municipalities nationwide.
The CPP claims that “not a single area command of the AFP” respected or implemented Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s orders for the military to “be friendly with the revolutionary government.”
It lists down incidents of abuses committed by military soldiers against civilians while actively hunting down revolutionary guerrillas for the past three months. These include encamping in civilian structures like village halls, public plazas, day care centers, health centers, schools, and residences.
“They arbitrarily accost people, limit the people’s movements, impose food blockades, force people to join in military-organized meetings or force themselves on community meetings [to] recruit spies and paramilitaries. Those who refuse to join the CAFGU or oppose the AFP’s recruitment campaign are automatically suspected of being supporters of the NPA and subjected to harassment,” the CPP said.
Encampment in civilian communities
Separate reports confirm military encampment in civilian structures.
A report from Panay Today cites that indigenous peoples in Panay Island, the Tumandoks, complain that their mini-market in Brgy. Katipunan, Tapaz, Capiz is being used as barracks by members of the 61st Infantry Batallion.
Meanwhile, in Roxas City, beneficiaries of 4Ps from Brgy. Culasi claim that they cannot use anymore their barangay hall because of members of the 3rd Infantry Division that are encamped inside. Residents of Brgy. Dinginan also say that military units of the 47th IB are patrolling their village during early mornings and afternoons.
The Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA) reported that members of the 62nd IB are encamped in the health center of Brgy. Junob-Junob, Escalante City.
Villagers were reportedly made to sign papers that the soldiers called “census for livelihood,” and took pictures of victims while signing. Then they were then forced to admit that they were NPAs who are surrendering, NNAHRA said.
Especially targeted in these operations were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, an organization defending the rights of sugarcane plantation workers in Negros Island.
NNAHRA added that a chapel in Brgy. Minabuno was converted by soldiers into a sleeping quarters, and they they “even hanged their uniforms in the tabernacle.”
Women are especially affected by prolonged military encampment in communities. In Brgy. Western Uma, Lubuagan, Kalinga, where members of the 50th IB have encamped in the houses of residents since last year, women from the Uma tribe had to ward off sexual advances from soldiers.
“I wanted to go the CR so I went to ask fo the key [from the key holder]. He followed me. He sat on the stairs and called me. He said, “Psst! Come here I have something to tell you.” He was beckoning to me while gesturing that we have sex inside the CR,” said “Maya,” an indigenous woman who was interview by a fact-finding mission team led by the women’s group Innabuyog last October 2016.
Farmers have also complained that their livelihood has been affected, as they have stopped going out to their fields out of fear of being harassed by soldiers. “Hindi kami maka-araro kasi takot kami, lagi kaming lumilingon. Yung mga palay at mais namin hindi mabilad. Hindi kami makatrabaho kasi nandoon sila sa amin (We cannot till our lands, we have to constantly look over our shoulders. We can’t dry our corn and rice grains, or work because of their presence),” said Analyn Sabares, a farmer of Cawayan, Masbate, in an interview with Bicol Today.
Forced to stop schooling
Also of particular concern in several areas are military encampment in schools.
Bulatlat.com has reported that at least 18 schools of the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (CLANS) in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat have temporarily closed because of red-tagging and intimidation, including the forcible entry of school grounds by the police to take photos of students and teachers. This has affected more than 1,000 Lumad students.
On October 11, a platoon of Philippine Marines posted tarpaulins that labeled CLANS as “the entry point of deception of the NPA.” Leaflets claiming the same were also distributed in the village, according to the Save Our Schools Network.
Meanwhile, Bicol Today reported that in Dimasalang, Camarines Sur, members of the 31st IBPA have been deployed in five villages. In Brgy. Cabrera, soldiers have taken over the feeding program in schools.
“Many students are now not attending their classes because many are scared of the troops,” said village councilor Geraldine Codera.
Jonah Halayahay, a 4Ps beneficiary in the same village, said that residents are terrified because soldiers are interrogating them, looking for NPA members. He added that if they go to rallies, the soldiers threaten ther removal from the list of beneficiaries of the government’s conditional cash transfer program. (“Kapag pumunta daw kami ng rally tatanggalin kami sa 4Ps.”)
Anti-drug campaign as pretext?
Military soldiers and police have also allegedly used the anti-drug campaign as a pretext to enter communities and harass civilians.
“May dalang K-9, ang hinahanap daw nila, droga. Sa bukid, walang droga, dahil kaming magsasaka hindi kami maka-afford bumili ng droga. Ang aming ani, mahirap pa, lalo na ngayon tagtuyot. (They bring K-9 dogs and claim to be looking for drugs. But in our farms, there are no drugs. We cannot afford to buy them. Especially now that it is difficult to harvest with the dry spell),” said Carilo Mujeres, a farmer from Cawayan, Masbate.
In one case, state authorities even arrested civilians they suspected to be NPA supporters and instead presented them as drug suspects.
Last October 6, police forcibly entered the houses of four farmers in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, looking for subversive materials and calling them NPA. They found nothing but the flag of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines), the organization which the farmers, engaged in a land dispute, were members of.
They were nonetheless arrested and charged with violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, with the police claiming that they recovered 16 transparent plastic containers containing suspected shabu and drug paraphernalia from the farmers. The four farmers—Rowel Reola, Alfredo Ravelo, Lito Natural, and Randy Sta. Maria—remain in jail to this day.
Soldiers have also allegedly been deployed to control opposition from farmers and indigenous peoples in areas with land disputes and mining operations.
Panay Today reported that combined forces of the 47th, 61st, 14th, and 79th IB were deployed last October in a disputed 120-hectare farm in Brgy. Bungsuan, Dumarao, Capiz.
Meanwhile, the NDF-Southern Tagalog said that members of the 12th Marine Landing Batallion Team are operating as goons of the foreign company Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation.
Call of civilians
The 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law signed by both the GPH and NDFP prohibits the military use of civilian structures and targeting civilians as objects of attack.
The AFP has however denied that it is targetting civilians, while justifying their presence in civilian communities.
Right after President Duterte’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire against the NPA last July 26, the Armed Forces clarified that observance of the ceasefire is not tantamount to “back to barracks” for military soldiers. AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said that soldiers needed to maintain their presence in communities to “maintain peace and order.” The same is stated in the Suspension of Military and Police Offensives (SOMO/SOPO) order against the CPP-NPA.
But the CPP claims that for the past three months, the AFP has not suspended such offensives, and has in fact deployed “fully-armed units to the very heart of the NPA guerrilla zones and guerrilla bases,” with Red fighters only resorting to counter-maneuvers to avoid armed skirmishes.
It says that it is deliberate on the part of the Philippine military, which it calls an adjunct of the United States government, “to force the ceasefire to an end.”
The communist leadership also said that Duterte “must cast away his illusion that the GRP has exclusive dominion over the entire Philippines.”
“The fact is, in significant parts of the country, there exists two governments which are at war with each other: the GRP and the people’s democratic government which the NDFP represents. By continuing to forward deploy his abusive troops and occupy peasant communities, he is pressing on the civil war and proving himself no different from the warfreak Aquino and Arroyo regimes,” the CPP stated.
Meanwhile, civilians want to live without fear in their own communities, and hope for the successful resolution of the armed conflict through the peace talks.
“Sino pa ang maghahangad ng tunay na kalayaan at kapayapaan kundi tayong mga Pilipino? Dapat ugatin ang suliranin kung bakit mayroong armadong tunggalian. Dapat ugatin hanggang sa pinakasuluk-sulukan, nang sa gayon ay makawasan na ang problema ng ating bansa (Who else will yearn for genuine freedom and peace but us Filipinos? We must root out the reason for armed conflict. We must go to the very roots, so that we can end the problems of our country),” Porton said.
Report by Ilang-Ilang Quijano and Micah Magaro