By WENDY ATUBAN
MANKAYAN, Benguet — The second community dialog to resolve issues of militarization in Barangay Bulalacao, here, ended up with the people of Barangay Bulalacao reiterating their call for the immediate pullout of the army battalion reportedly overstaying in the barangay.
On the invitation of the municipal and barangay officials and local elders, representatives from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR); Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA), Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), participated in a community dialog where local residents raised their issues with the military to the officers of the 50th Infantry Batallion, in Tubo, Sapid Mankayan.
The communities’ issues stemmed from the sudden occupation of the multi-purpose hall by an AFP contingent. The multi-purpose hall was the barangay’s day care center, their offices and the official meeting place for the different farmers and workers organizations in this town including the local Bayan Muna partylist and the CPA.
Despite criticisms and appeals to vacate the building by local officials and community elders, the soldiers stationed there continued to use it as their center of operations and living quarters.
Since the occupation of the militarty, some residents here claimed they were subjected to intimidation, interrogation and harrassment by the military. Also, through the latter’s training of cameras and videos on private citizens.
This drew a reaction from a certain Seargent Macasiray who defended this action by citing the Human Security Act of 2007 as supporting the collection of electronic evidence especially of people suspected of as illegal or dealing with illegal people.
Beverly Longid, CPA chairperson said that the proper thing to do for the military to avoid further intimidating the people is to explain their actions and make it known to the people that an illegal person is at large so that the community can help in the search.
On the issue of militarization, Longid asserted that the presence of the military amid civilian settlements is contrary to civilian supremacy and the rules of engagement as provided for by the constituttion.
Atty. Mary Grace Dalog of CHR supported Longid saying “military should not be here” because, she claimed that there is no clear and present danger or armed conflict within the place.
The issues raised in the dialogue were however beclouded and reduced to a question on the use and ownership of the multi-purpose hall.
Lieutenant Abdul Rashid Avila of the 50th Infantry Battalion said any NGO who has donated something to the making of the building has no right to own altogether the place. “Nagdonate ang ilang NGO but it does not mean sa kanila na ang lahat,” (Some NGOs donated but it does not mean the whole place is theirs) he said during the dialog.
He also said he would stand by previous agreements between military and barangay officials on the issue of when the military would leave the place. The alleged agreed date was first week of June. Avila, however said this depends on the turnover if successful and if their mission in the place is finished.
The military entered the place reportedly for an outreach program and also to ensure that proper institutions are benefiting from govern
Avila was also quick to promise that when school time comes the military will relocate
Jude Baggo, CHRA secretary-general, enumerated some human violations that the military committed as reported by some residents. He said the military’s action is classified into threat, harrassment, intimidation and black propaganda. “These,” he said “result to psychological trauma” among the residents exposed to these military actions.
By way of answering these allegations both the military officials and CHR representatives request the people to file complaints with the CHR or human rights bodies.
Avila said, “Huwag idaan sa maling tao, idaan sa barangay officials,”(Do not direct questionsto wrong people. Course it through barangay officials.) He also asked the human rights “what they can do to organizations who use children (in their operations). “
“The dialog ended with the same issues still unsettled as the time of departure by the military but this time with a promise of renewed resistance if they continue to stay”, said councilman Juanito Labi.
The soldiers reportedly got a permission to use the premises until March 17 only. They are still occupying the barangay hall, a civilian structure, which by law, cannot be occupied by armed troops. # nordis.net