By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — A village official of Malibcong, Abra appealed for a stop to the military operations in his community so they could go back to their normal lives.
Antonio Ambalneg, a councilman of Lat-ey village of Malibcong, said soldiers arrived in their village around midnight last March 15, days after New People’s Army (NPA) rebels raided the town police station on March 12 and ambushed a police convoy on March 13.
The following day on March 16, from around 7:00 AM to 8:00 AM, Ambalneg said an aircraft flew over their town dropping bombs. He said they counted at least eight bombs dropped in different parts of Malibcong. He said the aircraft which he called a ‘tora-tora’ returned at around 1:30PM to 2:00PM and dropped six more bombs somewhere at the Mataragan boundary.
“The bombings traumatized our people especially the children and destroyed our ricefields, gardens pasture lands and the forest,” he said.
Ambalneg said the bombings caused a forest fire that is still ablaze as of this writing. He said that the pasture land of Lat-ey folks is in the forested area that caught fire. He said they were only able to save seven carabaos from the pasture land and that more than 20 cows are still missing.
“We call on the officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to please help us stop the forest fire from spreading any further not just for our cows but to save the remaining forest,” he said.
Ambalneg said that a two hectare ricefield being maintained by 11 families also in Lat-ey village was damaged by the bombing runs. He said that the ricefields were just planted for harvest in August. He said that the ricefield yields an average of 150 sacks of palay for one cropping season.
Ambalneg called on the officials of the Department of Agriculture to send agriculture technicians to assess the damage to the ricefields and gardens and identify the needed assistance for the local farmers. He said that aside from the ricefields, the upland gardens were damaged too.
“We do not know how much of the palay could be salvaged but for sure there will be no harvest for August,” he said.
Ambalneg also said they are already running out of food supply. “Our ricefields, gardens and pasture lands have been bombed, and our movements are now restricted due to the ongoing military operations and we do not have enough food supply stored in our houses, so we hope our government officials would help us,” he said.
Julia Camarao, the OIC head teacher of Bangilo Elementary School, said classes are still suspended for public elementary and high school following an order from the Department of Education Abra division that suspended classes until March 20 due to the ongoing military operations.
“We received a text from the division office about the suspension of classes but we have not seen the order on paper,” she said.
Ambalneg said that aside from being traumatized, the children are deprived of their right to education. “We really want the military operations to stop so that our children could go back to school,” he said.
In a press release, the Police Regional Office Cordillera (PROCor) said they are on hot pursuit operations against NPA rebels responsible for the raid and ambush in coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
But PROCor said they did not have information about the bombings.
Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) secretary general Imelda Tabiando condemned the air strikes in Malibcong as part of the military operations of the 24th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army under the 7th Infantry Division. She said the air strikes have affected at least 56 families, of about 200 children.
Tabiando pointed out that Malibcong is a 5th class municipality deprived of decent roads and basic social services. “It is an insult to the Filipino people that the government spends so much for bombs and bullets while most of its citizens, especially the national minorities, are wallowing in poverty,” she said.
Bayan Muna Representative Isagani Zarate also condemned the bombing runs in Malibcong. “We are calling on Pres. Duterte to rein in the military from displacing civilians and causing widespread destruction of property and trauma to the indigenous people in the area,” he said.
Zarate also said the AFP should stop the attacks “to have more conducive atmosphere” for the resumption of the peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
“We are calling for an investigation of these latest military atrocities in Malibcong, Abra that affected the civilians of the area. We call on Pres. Duterte to order an immediate stop to these indiscriminate bombings and hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations against our people,” Zarate said. # nordis.net