Abra files cases with GRP-NDFP joint monitoring committee
Bombings reminiscent of Beew massacre
BAGUIO CITY (May 13) – Elders of Tubo, Abra announced in an interview that they will file cases of human rights violation with the joint monitoring committee of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
The violations inflicted on their villages in the month long militarization under the 50th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army that reminded them of a nightmare in the 1980s when the nearby village of Beew was transformed into a no man’s land after government troops burned houses, killed a pregnant woman, and committed various human rights violations.
BIG SHELL. A Pananuman resident disclosed that mortar and cannon shells are big enough for a boy’s foot. Community folk estimated the craters to be as deep as 1.5 to 3 meters, created by bombs dropped in their domain. Photo by Lyn V. Ramo/NORDIS
More than two decades ago, the Beew villagers then, took refuge in Sagada, at the church of the St. Mary the Virgin, which was more than a day’s walk. The late Anglican priest Paul Sagayo Sr. brought it to the attention of national media which ignited the call for the withdrawal of troops in the area. It became known then as the Beew massacre.
Today in this interview, elders of Pananuman,Tubo narrated a similar story that has violated their rights as indigenous peoples to community peace, cultural integrity, and economic development.
Some 300 troopers of the 50th IB took over their village from March 12 to April 12. The villagers were not allowed to attend to their farms, animals and other activities.
“They bombed the forests outside the village. But the troop’s artilleries and their headquarters were inside the community as they conducted their war. The villagers were exposed to the crossfire,” said Dagson Buyagan.
Firearms are not allowed in the village. Pananuman is a peaceful village where policies and practices are strictly observed. The militarization brought disruption on their peace.
“There was even no prior information to the local barangay officials of the military operation,” added Rudy Sabino, a barangay councilman of Pananuman.
Sabino claimed that they have a barangay ordinance that prohibits bringing in any firearms inside the community. They informed the government troops about the ordinance but to no avail. The villagers consistently invoked the same ordinance on all armed groups.
As the militarization inflicted fear on the people, particularly during the bombings, the villagers called a community meeting. “We came up with a petition addressed to the military to stop the bombings and withdrew from the area,” added Gilbert Ganipis, another kagawad of Pananuman, in Tubo. They submitted the petition to the military headquarters in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur. The military withdrew from the area sometime afterwards.
Undermining indigenous culture
“When one of the government troopers was killed by the New People’s Army (NPA), they ordered us to recover the remains,” said Buyagan adding “But we only agreed to do it only after they have halted the exchange of fire.”
As dictated by their culture and because it happened in their village, Buyagan explained that they are responsible for the recovery of those killed. He reiterated however that the troops do not understand their culture and most of the time violate them.
In the retrieval of any human remains, the elders are compelled to perform some rituals first, Buyagan said. “Even after any retrieval, the elders are to perform the daw-es (cleansing ritual). The sanctity of the ritual and respect for the dead calls for a community holiday to be declared for the performance of the ritual,” added Buyagan.
“We are to do these rituals at the villagers’ expense and visiting outsiders must observe these practices too,” he said pointing-out that “any violation of the observance usually done by outsiders would require a repeat of the rituals which is not easy to perform.”
Econ effects worry villagers
On the other hand, uncertain future heighten the worries of these Tubo villagers because of the war waged in their community that has forced them to abandon their livelihood.
Also, under suspect to be members or aiding the NPA, the villagers were forbidden to get out of their houses, leaving their farms untended to the point of deterioration.
According to Buyagan, the plantation of sugarcane was destroyed because of the explosions. The implementation of a fishpond livelihood project was canceled because the location for the fishpond was taken by the military for the landing of their helicopters.
Farm animals such as cows and livestock were lost or alleged stolen by the camping soldiers. The villagers now worry about their food supply, and have little hope for recuperation and most of all they fear the possible comeback of the military.
Under the guise of executing the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) II of the government, the military’s series of aerial bombings and ground operations on suspected lairs of the NPA in these villages has inflicted traumatic terror on the people.
According to the reports of the fact-finding mission conducted at Pananuman on May 3-5, 2008 by a multi-sectoral group headed by the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and the Ilocos Human Rights Advocates (IHRA-KARAPATAN), about 48 bombs were exploded in an average of two days.
“They shelled mortars and cannons day and night,” It was nonstop because the soldiers did these operations in shifts.” Buyagan noted.
At first, the cannons were placed near the drinking-water source of the community. This was only about 10 meters away from the nearest house. The soldiers eventually transferred it but only a few yards away from the church and then, to the school grounds.
Lack of support
The people of Pananuman have been asking for help from the municipality of Tubo, Abra, when the military left their community but until now, they have not received any kind of support, beside the council resolution that reportedly asked for the military pullout.
Amid the military operations, the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) and the CHRA forwarded a letter of concern to the local government of Abra.
They also have tried asking support from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) but they have not heard or received any support from them. All they heard is word that relief operations could not be conducted there because of military operations.
How villagers cope
“A dialog with the military was planned because we are hoping that there will be compensations,” said Atty. Mary Ann Bayang, Spokesperson of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Monitor.
“They (the villagers) cannot quantify the cost of damage,” she added.
Pananuman villagers have started bringing back order in their lives and are trying to rehabilitate their devastated farms. However, inadequate food supply in the coming months is real.
“We do not have enough rice now, that is why we are planting kamote as a possible alternate,” Buyagan added.
To file cases
The residents claimed that they will submit the result of the fact-finding mission to the GRP-NDFP joint monitoring committee.
“We want that the rights of the civilians to be strictly observed by the warring parties and to exempt our village from their war,” said the elders.
The GRP-NDFP came up with a comprehensive agreement on the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law which was signed on March 16, 1998. The monitoring of the implementation of the said agreement is done by the joint monitoring committee which is based in Manila.
The said agreement states that “Civilian population and civilians shall be treated as such and shall be distinguished from combatants and, together with their property, shall not be the object of attack. They shall likewise be protected against indiscriminate aerial bombardment, strafing, artillery fire, mortar fire, arson, bulldozing and other similar forms of destroying lives and property, from use of explosives as well as the stockpiling near or in their midst, and the use of chemical and biological weapons.” # Arthur L. Allad-iw with reports from Niña Camille M. Pacial for NORDIS