Karapatan leads peace, medical mission in militarized villages

By RAMON BALAN-EG
www.nordis.net

STO. NIÑO, Cagayan — The human rights group Karapatan – Cagayan Valley extended medical assistance to 150 indigents during the peace and medical mission conducted at Barangay Balanni of this town on February 25, 2017.

Residents of Barangay Balanni, Santo Nino, Cagayan converge at the barangay hall to avail of the medical assistance from Karapatan-Cagayan Valley. The area is subject to intense militarization by the 17th IB of the Philippine Army. Photo by Ramon Balan-eg

Thirty one medical doctors, nurses and student aides from various parts of the country conducted check-ups and prescribed medicines to those who needed it. Among the major causes of morbidity were respiratory infections, skin diseases, colds and flu.

One patient expressed gratitude to the peace and medical team for visiting their far-flung barangay. She has been suffering from a respiratory ailment and did not have the money to travel to the Rural Health Unit to seek medical services.

Members of Karapatan gave a lecture on basic human rights to those present and worked with those who complained or showed symptoms of psychological stress due to the continued militarization in the area.

According the locals who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retribution or harassment, a contingent of 150 fully-armed soldiers belonging to the 17th IB of the Philippine Army arrived on February 8 and occupied the Barangay Hall, Day Care Center, the Church and some residential houses located at the barangay center.

During the mission work the soldiers were dispersed around the area of the medical mission taking photos and asking for the names of the members of the mission. The soldiers intentionally detached their nameplates to hide their identities and refused to divulge the name of their commanding officer when asked.

It was gathered that an armed encounter between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the military occurred in the forested area of Balanni on February 8 resulting to the death of a soldier. Military reinforcement soon arrived, bolstering the number to around 300 soldiers conducting combat operations in Balanni and two other adjacent barangays.

The farmers complained that they could not go out and work in the fields for fear that they would be caught in the crossfire or be suspected of being an NPA rebel or sympathizer. “Nu kastoy lattan ti sitwasyon ket mabaybay-an ti mula mi. Kasanu ngayen ti panagbiag mi?” (if this situation persists, our crops would be neglected. What will then happen to us?), one farmer said.

The farmers here depend on their annual corn production which they market in Tuguegarao City, around two-hours drive away. Apparently the soldiers took advantage of the brief encounter to militarize the barangays as part of their war strategies against the rebels. This situation has however isolated the villages and has cut them off from necessities from the town centers including enough food supply and medical assistance.

There are no health facilities in the barangay and the people relied on whatever medical assistance that the Barangay Health Workers could extend to them. # nordis.net

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