By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — In a recent interview, Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) Secretary General Jude Baggo expressed grave concern over the increasing army presence and their so-called “soft approach” activities in the communities of the Cordillera.
Baggo said it is very alarming that after the so-called “soft approach” of the AFP troopers used in the communities they believe to be influenced by the NPA guerillas to “win the hearts and minds of the people,” the AFP are now resorting to intimidation and “indirect” interrogations to gather information on civil society projects or civilian self-help activities.
Their continuous encampment and meddling in the daily lives of civilians in Talampac, Lacub, Abra and other areas is a violation of the Comprehensive Agreement On Respect for Human Rights and International humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) which upholds the rights of civilians in situations where there is armed conflict.
The CAHRIHL provides that the civilian community shall be protected from the risks and dangers posed by the presence of military camps in urban centers and other populated areas.
“It is a very alarming development that the military seems bent on “demonizing” projects or assistance requested by the communities from concerned NGOs to alleviate their economic status are now being labeled as fronts of CPP-NPA-NDF,” Baggo said.
Baggo added that while there is an ongoing resistance by the people of Abra particulary in Lacub against the entry of large mining corporations, military presence and activities in those areas are noticeably intensifying.
After encamping inside the communities of Barangay Talampac, elements of the Alpha Coy of the 41st IB Philippine Army are reportedly harassing the residents anew. CHRA, has monitored reports that army elements question the villagers on socio-economic projects (SEPs) initiated by non-government-organizations in the locality, aside from asking for the identification of members of community organizations in the area.
In one report, soldiers under the command of Lt. Limuel Jimeno held a meeting with the residents of Talampac in the evening of July 19. Jimeno’s group asked the residents to identify the organizations and individuals who helped or facillitated the acquisition of the rice mill, a desktop computer and farm tools and SEPs for the community.
“The soldiers even required the residents a week to furnish them the information. This can be construed as a threat on the people”, Baggo said.
One informant, who has asked not to be named, said, “although the soldiers did not ask specifics on the assisting organizations involved, by just by implication, the soldiers are trying to connect these SEPs to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).”
The troopers also asked who are the members of Saranay, a farmer’s organization in the said barangay. They also expressed their intention to organize an elders’ organization in the area.
Earlier, the same military unit formed an elders’ municipal alliance Gibon in the municipality of Baay-Licuan also in Abra.
It will be recalled that last February 15, members of the Re-engineered Special Operations Team (RSOT) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) occupied the Barangay Hall and Day Care center and five houses in Talampac proper.
On March 1, they occupied the basements of two more private houses while other members encamped in Sitio Pacoc of the same Barangay. The soldiers even implemented a curfew in the communities.
Also, in Besao, Mountain Province villagers continue to air grievances over the continued presence of soldiers from the 50th IBPA. They complained of the continuing implementation of curfew by soldiers on the civilian population.
The communtiy members were also told to use pinewood, instead of flashlights, when moving around during night time. They said the soldiers told them that flashlights are being used by NPA guerillas.
One resident added that they have to be extra careful and cautious when they get firewood in the forest because roaming troppers may mistakenly see them as carrying a firearm. “You can never tell what they will do to you”, he said in Kan-kanaey.
Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) Secretary General Jude Baggo expressed concerns over the army’s activities in the communities of Abra. Baggo said it is very alarming that after the so-called “soft approach” of the AFP troopers in the communities they believed to be influenced by the NPA guerillas to “win the hearts and minds of the people”, they are now resorting to intimidation and “indirect” interrogations to gather the information they like to get.
Their continuous encampment and meddling with the daily lives of communities in Talampac and other areas is a violation of Comprehensive Agreement On Respect for Human Rights and International humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) which upholds the rights of civilians in situations where there are armed conflicts where they have the right to be protected from the risks and dangers posed by the presence of military camps in urban centers and other populated areas.
“It is a very alarming development as the military seems bent on “demonizing” projects requested by the communities from concerned NGOs to assist them in their economic activities are now being labeled as fronts of CPP-NPA-NDF,” Baggo said.
Baggo added that while there are ongoing resistance of the people of Abra particulary in Lacub against the entry of large mining corporations, military presence and activities in those areas are intensifying.
Lacub has sources of high grade gold ore. It is among the municpalities of Abra which is being applied for mining explorations by the Australian Rio Dorado Mining Company. # nordis.net