SIMON "Ka Filiw" NAOGSAN
Spokesperson, Cordillera Peoples' Democratic Front
In a repeat performance of a similar zarzuela earlier this year, the 5th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines last November 8 staged another signing ceremony with the Kalinga provincial government declaring the province "insurgency-free."
This latest stunt of the 5th ID, particularly the 501st Brigade, intends to increase the involvement of the local police and government units in the counter-insurgency operations, camouflage the frantic tactical shifting of troops, and hide from the public the dismal failure of the extended Oplan Bantay Laya II.
By declaring Kalinga and other parts of the Cordillera "insurgency-free," the AFP is trying to project an illusion of stability that the reactionary government desperately needs to convince large-scale mining firms and energy companies that their investments and entry into the Cordillera will not be met with popular resistance.
More importantly, by declaring certain provinces "insurgency-free" the 5th ID creates a face-saving excuse for its frantic shuffling of overstretched units. Maj. Gen. Rommel Gomez, 5th ID commander, calls it "shifting the concentration of security in other areas." The truth is, the 5th ID is desperately short of troops needed to counter the scope of the political and military work of the New People's Army and the Cordillera People's Democratic Front (CPDF) in the Cordillera. Now that Kalinga has been declared "insurgency-free," the 501st Bde can shift units of the 21st Infantry Battalion to cover parts of Eastern Mountain Province where every barangay is currently occupied by the military.
With four battalions now operating in the Mountain Province, MGen. Gomez has turned his home province into the most militarized area in the Cordillera. As usual, human rights abuses are on the rise. Last September, troops of the 21st IB in the towns of Natonin and Paracelis occupied schools and other public infrastructures and destroyed rice crops ready for harvest. There are reports of the attempted rape of two high school students from Lias, Barlig. In mid-November, troops occupied the barangay halls of Banao, Tonglayan, Pudo, Alonugan, Butac, Saliok and Maducayan in the municipality of Natonin. Last November 10, troops forced open the faculty room of the elementary school in the nearby village of Bunag, Aguinaldo, Ifugao and occupied the premises for several days.
Declaring certain areas as "insurgency-free" is the military's way of using beautiful wallpaper to hide the embarrassing cracks and holes in the wall of their deployment and operations. It may be good to look at, until the wall collapses. All it takes is a single tactical offensive or the continuing mass work of NPA units to prove that no province in the Cordillera is really "insurgency-free." Last June, the 5th ID was going to declare the Mountain Province "insurgency-free," but withheld after a unit of its best troops was wiped-out in a daring NPA tactical offensive in Samoki, Bontoc.
As we commemorate Human Rights Day, let us remember that it is the violation of the economic, political, and socio-cultural rights of the Cordillera people that drives them to stand firm and defend themselves, their heritage and their ancestral lands.
For over a century, the State has wrongly treated the Cordillera as nothing more than a resource base to be exploited for the benefit of foreign big corporations and the local ruling class. The people's legitimate protests have been trampled upon by unjust laws and brutal militarization.
The revolutionary movement has taken root and gained strength among the oppressed and exploited national minorities, and no amount of gimmickry and psywar tactics by the military can hide this fact. The NPA and the CPDF continue to enjoy the support of the Cordillera people, and together they persist in the advancing the revolutionary armed struggle to a higher stage and in victory together with the rest of the Filipino people build a just, progressive and independent society that recognizes and fosters the basic economic, political, and socio-cultural rights of the people.