By ROD TAJON
STA. LUCIA, Ilocos Sur — Human rights advocates condemned the murder of an Ilocos peasant and the continuing gross violations of people’s rights brought about by the military operations of the joint opearatives of the 50th and 86th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IB PA).
The fact finding mission team led by the Ilocos Human Rights Allaince (IHRA) on September 15 found out that Elmer Valdez, 33 a resident of Conconig East was taken by elements of the military from their house and went missing for three days.
Valdez’ body was retrieved after a series of negotiations with the military and police and, only after his family, barangay officials and non-government organizations were questioned and harassed by the military. The military denied the family and barangay officials to search for him earlier.
IHRA added that Valdez’ body was in a state of decomposition when he was found by his family and barangay officials in a shallow grave.
This was contrary to the claims of the of Col. Soriano of the 503rd brigade in his interview over media that the military were the ones who retrieved Valdez’s body.
His father (name withheld) said, Valdez went to the nearby hills to get some bamboo to fix their kitchen at around 10:00 AM military elements allegedly took him and accused him to be a member of the NPA.
According to his father, the army men called out to him and he even responded before they heard a series of gun shots and command orders coming from alleged elements of the military who were conducting clearing operations near their house in Conconig East.
His wife later heard a gasp that sounded like her husband’s along with the sound of gun shots and military commands.
The community folk related that the military arrived at dawn of September 10 and since, their continued presence has served gross violations of people’s rights.
The group said some 200 military elements from 50th IBPA and 86th IBPA conducted pursuit operations in the areas of barangays Conconig East, Conconig West, Pila East, Sapang and Banbanaba and several parts of Palali Norte, Palali Sur and Alincaoeg.
The 503rd Brigade led by Col. Soriano and 5th Infantry Division led by Major General Rommel Gomez later reinforced the 50th and 86th IBPA.
IHRA-KARAPATAN’s fact finding mission indicated that the military gravely violated individual and collective rights of the people in the communities here. Their presence disrupted the communities’ normal activities that has aggravated their already poverty stricken situation.
Gun shots in the nearby hills terrorized the children that people from Conconig East and Sapang were forced to run and evacuate from their homes for fear of harassment and maltreatment by the military.
Parents hurried to take and evacuate their children from the Conconig Primary School.
Accused as NPA members
Niel (not his real name) said he was getting bamboo when some about 20 military men on patrol surprised him and accused him to be a member of the NPA. Had he not insisted he was a civilian, he could have been killed just like Elmer Valdez.
The same troopers also threatened 60-year old Ben (not his real name) who was on his way to herd his cow and accused him as NPA. He showed his cow and asserted that he was just herding his cow. He was later made to accompany the troopers to where they could get some water.
He was held for four hours and later was given P120.00 for fare and a figurine of the Holy Family “to protect him” in case he would bump into other military men patrolling and conducting clearing operations at that time.
Two more farmers also shared the same experience, as one of them was held overnight while the other was freed after a series of threats and intimidations.
Illegal search and seizure
The FFM Report also noted that three households were illegally searched by the military on mere suspicion that these were NPA hideaway.
It turned out that the occupants of one of the houses were senior citizens, the others were children and their guardian who were not even aware of the on-going military operations in the nearby barangay.
Military presence threatens communities
The military operations of the 50th and 86th IBPA affected around 500 households in the four barangays of Sta. Lucia. According to the FFM report the operations affected around 70 households in Palali Sur, 300 in Conconig East, in Sapang and 30 in Banbanaba.
The report also noted that the affected households of Alincaoeg, Pila East and Conconig West were not yet included.
The military claimed that all of the said barangaysare NPA supporters. The army men also blamed the community folk saying that there would be no NPAs in the area if not for the “support” of the communities.
According to the findings of IHRA-KARAPATAN, people are unable to move freely in the community to do their usual routines.
“They are afraid to stay late outside of their homes in the same way that they are afraid to get out too early and self-imposed curfew was even set by the residents in the barangay to ensure their safety,” the group reported.
The Solidarity of Peasants against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) also condemned the military opperations for disrupting the economic activities of the people.
Avelino Dacanay, chairperson of STOP Exploitation said residents cannot attend to their crops and gather firewood in the nearby mountain due to fear.
“The farmers are afraid to suffer the same fate as Elmer Valdez and other farmers who were held by the military and accused as members of the revolutionary NPA,” he said.
In addition, the Huey chopper that malfunctioned during the operations damaged several rice crops and farm lands after its emergency landing last September 10.
Ptr. Jerry Arzadon , deputy secretary general of IHRA-KARAPATAN said that the operations conducted by the military is part of the extension of Oplan Bantay Laya II, the failed counterinsurgency program of the Arroyo government and continued by the Aquino government.
IHRA-KARAPATAN and STOP Exploitation demand that justice should be served to all victims especially to Elmer Valdez. The groups also called for the military to stop their operations and leave the communities. # nordis.net