By KYLE EDWARD FRANCISCO
VIGAN CITY, Ilocos Sur – “The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ only reputation is their propensity to violate human rights and terrorize the Filipino people.”
The statement was made by the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA) in response to the Armed Forces of the Philippines claim that activists are only trying to tarnish its reputation in connection with the recent Lumad killings in Mindanao. IHRA said that under Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, the Armed Forces of the Philippines have literally turned communities in Ilocos Sur into garrisons, reminiscences of the martial law period.
The group scored the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army for the continuing encampments in populated areas and human rights violations especially in peasant communities. Well-known for its bloody record, the army unit hugged the media and became notorious under the command of then General Jovito Palparan.
The 7th ID took over the region from the 5th ID in 2010 deploying the 3rd Infantry Battalion to cover the Ilocos provinces, La Union and Pangasinan except for the municipalities of San Emilio, Quirino and Cervantes that remained under the jurisdiction of the 50th Infantry Battalion of the 5th IDPA deployed in the tri-boundary of Benguet-Abra-Mt. Province-Ilocos Sur. In 2012, the 81st IBPA relieved the 3rd IBPA and took over the entire Ilocos Sur in 2014.
“Like the previous internal security plan, Oplan Bayanihan primarily aimed in suppressing dissent against the government with no differentiation between armed members of the revolutionary movement and civilians belonging to progressive organizations,” says Ma. Zoilo Baladad, Secretary General of IHRA.
Baladad also pointed out that justice remains elusive for the families and victims of extra-judicial killings (EJK) in the region. She cited the murder of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary-General Romy Sanchez and Pepe Manegdeg, Jr. of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Suspected military agents killed Sanchez and Manegdeg in Baguio City in March 2005 and San Esteban in November 2006 respectively. Both fell victim to Gloria Macapagal’s Oplan Bantay Laya.
Under President Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, three individuals became victims of EJK. The group blames the armed state agents for the murder of Elmer Valdez, Nicolas Ramos and Carlo Magbulos.
Circumstantial evidence points to elements of the 50th and 86th Infantry Battalions for the September 2010 killing of Valdez and Ramos. The former is from Sta. Lucia and the latter from Salcedo both municipalities of Ilocos Sur. Both were found separately in shallow graves by residents who looked for them after they failed to come home during a military operation in the said municipalities.
Baladad narrated that upon learning of the people’s discovery of the graves, the army was quick to insinuate that both are members of the New People’s Army that were mortally wounded during an encounter in September 10 in Conconig East, Sta. Lucia.
“However, after residents and barangay officials confirmed that the two were civilians, the army changed their story and blamed the New People’s Army for supposedly taking Valdez as a human shield,” she added.
On October 29, 2012, five farmers were walking home from their farm work in Brgy. Cabuusan, Currimao when joint elements of the 81st IBPA, PNP Currimao and Regional Public Safety Battalion stationed in Banna, Ilocos Norte opened fire killing Magbulos and fatally wounding Ronald Sadaba. Three of their companions were able to run and take cover. They were shaken scared but were not wounded.
The PNP and army said that the victims were members of an armed group in the area. However, relatives, friends and barangay officials disputed their claim. Ironically, the four survivors from the attack are now facing charges and are only out on bail.
Other human rights violations
From 2012 to present, IHRA has documented two cases of physical assault and torture, 20 threat, harassment and intimidation, 10 illegal arrest and detention, and 10 filing of trumped-up charges with a total of 47 victims. All of these acts were committed by members of the 81st IBPA, most of which are in the Municipality of Sta. Cruz.
“Troops under the 7th ID do not respect the International Humanitarian Law, they encamped inside communities and public facilities, actions which are considered grave violations under the rules of war,” pointed Baladad.
She also noted the arrogance of the 81st IB fueled by the support of the local government of Sta. Cruz in putting their battalion headquarters near the houses in Brgy. Bugbuga. This, she added, is a blatant violation of Rule 23 of the Customary International Humanitarian Law and may constitute to a war crime. Baladad also said that the local government refuses to act on a petition signed and submitted by residents of Sta. Cruz expressing their protest against the army facility.
Private armies for corporations
In a separate statement, the revolutionary movement also scored the 81st IBPA for acting as private armies of foreign and local businesses, land grabbing of politicians and mining corporations.
Sadiri, Spokesperson of the Pambansang Katipunan ng Magbubukid (PKM)-Ilocos, said that elements of the 81st IBPA, the PNP’s Regional Public Safety Battalion and Provincial Public Safety Company are now stationed inside the residential areas of Brgy. San Antonio, Nagtengnga, Lalong, Pidpid, Amarao, San Pedro, Daligan, Quinfermin, Calaoaan, Camanggaan, San Jose, Banay and Coscosnong in Sta. Cruz.
Sadiri bared that Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) provided for the materials and supplies for the battalion headquarters and is presently hosting a platoon of soldiers in their trading center in the town. He also said that last August, Vice Mayor Valle called a meeting to convince the farmers to enter into contract farming with the tobacco company.
“The installation of the army’s detachment and battalion headquarter in the area is to protect the land grabbing spree of Vice Mayor Virgilio Valle of Sta. Cruz for his eucalyptus plantation and for the furtherance of Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation’s (PMFTC) monopoly over the tobacco trade,” Sadiri added.
He urge the peasantry to strengthen their unity and support the New People’s Army to weaken and defeat the evil and oppressive triumvirate of the 81st IBPA, Vice Mayor Valle and PMFTC. # nordis.net