By Fr. SANTIAGO SALAS (Ka Sanny)
Spokesperson, NDFP Eastern Visayas Chapter
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Eastern Visayas condemns the Aquino regime and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for the military occupation and terrorizing of civilian communities in the region under Oplan Bayanihan. These violations of international humanitarian law and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) between the GPH and NDFP lay bare the fascist state terrorism behind Oplan Bayanihan’s sugarcoating of “peace and development.” There are already residents of some communities who have trooped to the mass media to express their fear and anger at the 8th Infantry Division’s impunity. There are certainly more cases that have yet to reach human rights advocates and the media.
Residents of Barangay (village) Robas, Jaro, Leyte exposed last 22 September over the radio that the “peace and development” team of the 19th Infantry Battalion is currently based in the middle of the barrio in violation of international humanitarian law and the CARHRIHL. Moreover, the soldiers harassed and intimidated the residents, saying that the military would get back at the civilians if something happened in their operations.
Indeed, after the New People’s Army (NPA) ambushed the soldiers on 14 September at the barrio outskirts, the soldiers indiscriminately strafed the then unoccupied house of a civilian and even damaged nearby streetlights. After an earlier NPA tactical offensive last December 2012, a habal-habal (motorcycle-for-fire) driver was also summarily executed by the 19th Infantry Battalion on the mere suspicion that he participated in the NPA tactical offensive.
During the NPA ambush last 14 Sept., the 19th Infantry Battalion elements also tried to turn some civilians who were safely far away from the line of fire into human shields. This can be gleaned from the news report of the account given by 802nd Infantry Brigade chief Col. Rafael Valencia while awarding medals to two soldiers wounded in action: “Seeing that the civilians were endangered and could be caught in a crossfire, Sgt. Palacio and Cpl. Legado exposed themselves to withering enemy fire and raced towards the civilians, and protect[ed] them [italics ours]… ”
If true, that wasn’t bravery; that was evil-mindedness because maneuvering towards the civilians who were not in a crossfire would most likely draw the line of fire to them and put them in one. But of course the soldiers also knew the NPA respects international humanitarian law and would not fire if civilians would be hit. It was the civilians who saved the soldiers, not the other way around.
It is just for the residents of Barangay Robas to demand that the military leave their community. A state of martial law exists in the village. The 19th Infantry Battalion soldiers impose a curfew and curtail the movements of the peasants who find it hard to work their farms. The “peace and development team” also pretend to be there to bring socio-economic projects, but they are in fact combat-ready for offensive missions.
Thus their presence for so-called socio-economic projects such as developing a hot spring for tourism as well as organic farming are highly questionable. The civilians could do such projects without the soldiers, while the projects are no substitute to agrarian reform that the peasants really want. The Barangay Robas residents furthermore complain that they are forced to pay ₱20 membership fees to the 19th IB for “developing” their own village.
The experience of Brgy. Robas is reflected as well in other parts of the region. In Carigara, Leyte, according to the Mt. Amandewin Command, NPA-Leyte, the 19th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Joel Nacnac personally goes to the homes of civilian activists to accuse them of being NPA sympathizers and warn them they are targets of the military.
Just before the Brgy. Robas residents aired their grievances to the public, the peasants in Brgy. Victory, Las Navas, Northern Samar also exposed a similar tale of militarization and fascist terrorism in their village. The Arnulfo Ortiz Command of the NPA in Western Samar has also slammed the military for the same stories of accusing civilians of being NPA supporters, imposing curfews, restricting free movement, ruining livelihoods, and making the people live under duresss. These occur in Western Samar’s hinterland villages of Matuguinao, San Jose de Buan, Paranas, Motiong, Jiabong and Villareal.
Putting civilians at risk is also inherent in the setting up of Barangay Peacekeeping Action Teams (BPATs) by the Philippine National Police (PNP) to support Oplan Bayanihan. The BPATs are ostensibly crimebusting forces at the village level to augment the PNP. But part of their functions is “internal security operations” and thus the BPATs are essentially “counterinsurgency” vigilante forces.
This could lead to more human rights violations. According to regional police head Chief Supt. Elmer Soria, almost 94% of barangays in the region have organized BPATs. Soria has promised a stronger partnership between the PNP and AFP in the region.
This oppression of the people occurs while the Aquino regime is being scrutinized for massive corruption in the “pork barrel” scam.Thus the people are inflamed that they are suppressed and suffering so that those in power could wallow in corruption and commit anti-people and anti-national policies with impunity.
Thus the NDFP-Eastern Visayas calls on the people to express their grievances and struggle against the militarization and fascist state terrorism under Oplan Bayanihan. They must assert their rights under international humanitarian law and the CARHRIHL. They must persevere in their democratic struggles not only for basic civil liberties but also for land, work and other basic socio-economic reforms.
They must demand the resumption of peace talks between the Aquino government and the NDFP. The “peace and development” agenda of the Aquino regime and the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan is bogus, fascist, anti-people and anti-national. The struggle for peace is a struggle for justice, democracy and national sovereignty against the corruption, fascism and puppetry of the Aquino regime.