TUGUEGARAO CITY, Cagayan — Aggay and Malaweg communities in the three barangays of Rizal one of the municipality of Cagayan are now demanding an immediate stop to military operations in their area. Barangays Masi, San Juan and Bural, situated in the mountains of Zinundungan Valley, has been the target of large-scale military operations since March 2015.
From March-April 2015, the 17th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army used as pretext the search and retrieval operations for the bodies of their intelligence operatives named Pfc. Victor Balao-as and Pfc. Jay Tugao who were meted punitive actions by the New People’s Army (NPA) for undertaking intelligence and psywar operations against the residents of Zinundungan Valley.
On July 2015, the 17th IB arrived again in the area to conduct Peace and Development Team Operations. The army troops had encamped at Sitio Lucban of Barangay Masi, Sitio Turutukutan of barangay San Juan and Bural. Since then, residents in the area experienced numerous human rights violations such as kidnapping, torture and intimidation, enforced arrests and detention, ransacking, threats and harassment.
Arrests and threats
On the early morning of July 20, around 35 military men of the 17th IB barged into the homes of Mendo Bisiotan, Marlon Bangayan and Orlando Duruin and were forcibly taken away from their homes at Sitio Daligan of barangay San Juan. They were dragged some 100 meters away from the community, where they were repeatedly beaten. They were forced to walked until they reached Barangay Sicalao of Lasam, a municipality of Cagayan, which is eleven hours walk away from San Juan. The three resurfaced on July 24, three days after their abduction. They were subsequently charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosive devices. Bangayan and Bisiotan are active members of Timpuyog dagiti Mannalon nga Aggay ti Zinundungan Valley, while Duruin is an active member of Malaweg Farmers Association.
Another incident of abduction and illegal arrest happened on Oct. 1, 2015 of Lenor Danao, also an Aggay farmer and leader of Timpuyog dagiti Mannalon nga Aggay ti Zinundungan Valley, was arbitrarily arrested by 30 personnel of the 17th IB, 5:00 AM in the morning at his home at barangay Masi. He was brought to a CAFGU detachment at barangay Gagabutan, Rizal and was whisked away in a black van. Just like the case of Bangayan, Bisiotan and Daruin, it was after a week when Danao also resurfaced.
In both cases, a copy of the arrest warrant issued against them was not shown by the military operatives.
Likewise, Aggay and Malaweg farmer leaders such as Stewart Garon, Eling Azucena, Rafael Guimay, and members of Lipatan Farmers Association namely Aris Infante, Raul and Lina Ladino, and Edward Callueng of barangay Lipatan, a neighboring town of Sto. Nino, are also reported to be receiving threats. Criminal element such as Buog Bisuten is now being utilized by the 17th IB to maliciously pinpoint Aggay and Malaweg farmer leaders as “NPA members”.
Residents of Zinundungan Valley also complained of illegal searches done by elements of 17th IB inside their own homes. Food supplies such as rice, grains like corn and mongo that were found were either thrown away or confiscated. Even their valuables such as pellet guns used for hunting and cellphones were not spared. Families are threatened by military men at gunpoint during these illegal searches and interrogations. The residents were also accused of being members or sympathizers of the NPA.
Residents are also forbidden to hold gatherings, frequently asked of their itineraries and in some cases, the men are being followed by the military elements. Many of their crops have been destroyed. The residents have expressed their fear and anger over these attacks on their own homes and livelihood. Even their economic activities such as farming are now severely limited due to military operations in the community.
Fact-finding team charged
On September 16-19, a fact-finding mission was launched, spearheaded by Karapatan Cagayan Valley, Anakpawis-CV and Kagimungan to investigate these violations perpetrated by elements of the 17th IB in Zinundungan Valley.
After the fact finding mission, the whole delegation was also charged by 17th IB-PA with criminal case. Among those accused were known personalities at Region 2, NDFP consultant Randy Malayao and Anakpawis Regional chairperson Isabelo Adviento.
Stop military operations
Barangay officials and residents alike are united in calling for a stop to military operations so that they can resume their daily activities without fear.
“It is now alarming how, in the last year of President Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, tribal communities such as the Lumads in Mindanao and now the Aggays here in Cagayan are being subjected to these brutal attacks perpetrated by the fascist minions of the AFP. This Oplan Bayanihan does not really promote unity and peace but rather, fascism and destruction. It is clearly stated in the Comprehensive Agreement for the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIL), signed by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and National Democratic Front (NDF), that civilian populace should not be the targets of armed actions. The presence of military troops have caused fear in the communities, we now want that to end. ” AGTA, an Aggay tribal organization stated.
Inline with this, the group also called for the accountability of higher military officials such as Major General Lysander Suerte of the 5th ID, Colonel Allan Arojado of the 502nd Infantry Brigade and Colonel Jose Real of the 17th IB to these gross violations on the rights of the people of Zinundungan Valley. It has also expressed its demand for the dismissal of charges filed against the 76 farmer leaders and civilians and the immediate release of Bisiotan, Bangayan, Duruin and Danao. # nordis.net