By ALDWIN QUITASOL
Posted by Bulatlat
BAGUIO CITY – In a recent interview, Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) Secretary General Jude Baggo expressed grave concern over the increasing presence of the Army 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 soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to supposedly “win the hearts and minds” of people in communities they suspect to be influenced by New People’s Army guerillas, they are now resorting to intimidation and “indirect” interrogations to gather information regarding projects of civil society groups and community self-help activities.
Their continuous encampment and meddling into the daily lives of civilians in Talampac, Lacub, Abra and other areas are a violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL), which upholds the rights of civilians in situations of armed conflict.
The CAHRIHL provides that the civilian community shall be protected from the risks and dangers posed by the presence of military troops 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 situation. These are now being labeled as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army- National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP),” Baggo said.
Baggo added that while there is an ongoing resistance by the people of Abra, particularly in Lacub, against the entry of large mining corporations, military presence and activities in those areas are noticeably intensifying.
Lacub has sources of high grade gold ore. It is among the municipalities of Abra which has pending applications for mining exploration by the Australian Rio Dorado Mining Company.
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. The CHRA has monitored reports that Army soldiers question 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 unit asked residents to identify the organizations and individuals who helped or facilitated the acquisition of the rice mill, a desktop computer and farm tools and projects for the community.
“The soldiers gave residents one 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 implication, the soldiers are trying to connect these socio-economic projects to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP).”
The soldiers are also asking about 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 AFP occupied the barangay hall and day care center and five houses in Talampac proper.
On March 1, they occupied the basements of two 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.
The community 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 soldiers may mistakenly think that they are carrying a firearm. “You can never tell what they will do to you”, he said in Kan-kanaey.