By NORWIN GONZALES
BAGUIO CITY — In a press statement on October 3, Kakailian Salakniban Ta’y Amin a Nagtaudan (KASTAN) denounced what seems to be a partnership by the military and the provincial government in launching a counterinsurgency (COIN) program “against the civilian citizenry of Abra.”
“Abra Governor Jocelyn Valera Bernos and 24th Infantry Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Baluga are conducting a COIN campaign aimed at the civilian citizenry of Abra rather than the combatants of the New People’s Army,” said the statement.
KASTAN refers to steps taken jointly by 24th IBPA and Bernos to “discredit or bully” the people into cooperating with them against the New People’s Army (NPA).
On October 2, Baluga and Bernos convened a meeting of mayors all over Abra, where the Malibcong mayor did not show up. He, then, was tagged as a supporter of the NPA, and “feeding the terrorists.”
Bernos, on September 15, warned the people attending a medical mission against attending the general assembly of Salakniban Pita Takay (SAPIT), a people’s organization in Sallapadan town. This was, according to her convened by the NPA. Baluga spoke after her, saying he would “bring his troops to the baryo” if the residents insist on attending the said meeting.
Later that day, Bernos convened the barangay officials, with a similar objective.
“She told them that their projects would be withdrawn and that they would be deprived of their Internal Revenue Allotments if they did not put a stop to the activities of people’s organizations operating within their jurisdictions,” added the statement.
Bernos and Baluga had also accused the secretariat of KASTAN as recruiters for the NPA.
“Through his unit’s Facebook page, 24th Infantry Wildcat Battalion, LtC. Baluga has viciously slandered Kabataan Partylist Abra Coordinator, Shirley Ann Angiwot, tagging her as ‘Ka Juana’, a ‘rebel’ who has supposedly deceived and brainwashed Abra youth into joining the NPA,” the statement added.
Several members of youth organization, Anakbayan, were also detained after an NPA raid on the municipal headquarters in Malibcong on March 18. Having nothing to do with the said attack, they were released but were subsequently subjected to harassment and surveillance.
Soldiers also surrounded the home of local leader Antonio Ambalneg on March 16.
After the 24th IBPA’s assault to an NPA unit in Boliney, members of the Abra Human Rights Movement (AHRM) were to extend aid to a woman wounded in the incident but were barred by Bernos, saying they have to seek a clearance to see the woman.
“But Governor Bernos would not allow anyone access to the patient until AHRM’s paralegals argued that this would be an infringement on the woman’s right to visitation as a prisoner of war. Although the Governor then allowed the mother to stay at her daughter’s side, she issued a memorandum to provincial hospital staff not to allow anyone else to visit the prisoner unless the visitor first obtained clearance from her office,” according to the statement.
The AHRM also worked to rescue Regine Tadeo, a 17-year old girl, trapped in a battle between the AFP and the NPA. Tadeo is from Malibcong, and was there to escape Baluga’s persecution. It was already arranged that the Boliney elders were to turn over Tadeo to the Malibcong elders, when Bernos stepped in and had her arrested by the police. Were it not for an interagency body, she would still be in police custody.
United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) says Baluga is ready to file charges against two of the Anakbayan members, and Tadeo.
The 24th IB is also pressuring the parents of two girls from the municipality of Dolores to file charges against the KASTAN secretariat for allegedly recruiting their daughters into the NPA.
“KASTAN sees this as part of a systematic effort to repress, discredit, and dismantle the people’s democratic movement in Abra. It is part of the Duterte regime’s Oplan Kapayapaan – that, like its predecessor Oplan Bayanihan, follows the US counter-insurgency strategy of “cleaning up” and harnessing the entire government machinery to “neutralize” the restive but unarmed populace instead of engaging the armed insurgents themselves. It is unfair, inhumane, and a threat to democracy,” the statement ended.
KASTAN is the Abra provincial chapter of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA). # nordis.net