By JOAN GARCIA
VIGAN CITY, Ilocos Sur – Last July, the 81st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) arrived at the provinces of Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. They replaced the 3rd IBPA that was encamped at 5 barangays in the two provinces. This August, the Peace and Development Teams of the 81st IBPA started to occupy parts of Sta. Cruz and Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur.
The 81st IBPA has a long history of human rights violations during its time at Central Luzon and was reportedly disbanded due to this reason.
Included in their record is the encampent at barrios, surveillance and vilification of legal mass organizations and the displacement of Igorot communities.
One prominent case of rights violation of the 81st IBPA is the illegal arrest, detention and filing of false charges against Ernesto Bubod, Vice Tribal Chieftain in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija last March 22, 2011.
Barely two months in Ilocos Sur, elements of the 81st IBPA have already started to instill fear in the communities.
Tied and blindfolded
Last September 15, at Brgy. Kinmarin, Salcedo, Ilocos Sur, Arnold Bandiwan, 21 years old and his uncle, Saturnino Habon, 47 years old, were on their way to fish at a nearby creek when they came upon 16-20 elements of the Philippine Army.
Before they could go on their way, they were blocked by the military and asked where the other New Peoples Army (NPA) members were. The two explained that they know nothing about the where-abouts of the NPA but the military refused to believe them and said that the two are members of the NPA.
Their bags, which contain their food and fishing gear, were then confiscated by the military. As this was happening, the other soldiers were still questioning them about the NPA and where their guns were allegedly hidden. Still, Arnold and Saturnino reiterated that they know nothing.
At this, one of the soldiers commanded that they be tied and blindfolded.
Arnold was then brought to a part of the mountain that is around 100 meters away from his uncle.
The torture of Arnold
While blindfolded, Saturnino was repeatedly asked about the NPA. Even though he still responded that he knows nothing, the soldiers did not believe him. From where he was, he could hear Arnold’s pleas.
Arnold was also being asked the same questions . When Arnold answered that he did not know where the NPAs were, the soldier asking him said that there were 12 members of the NPA and only the two of them were not able to run away.
The soldier then punched Arnold at the stomach.
The questioning did not stop and everytime Arnold answered, he was punched again and again. When he fell due to the force of the beating, his chest would then be hit.
At one instance, Arnold’s blindfold was raised by one of the soldiers and he was able to see another soldier taking his bolo.
“Do you see this? Do you want to die?” the soldier asked. “No Sir”, Arnold responded.
The soldier then pushed Arnold’s head down and placed the blunt side of the bolo at his nape.
All this time the soldiers were still asking the same question about the where-abouts of the NPA.
At around 2 in the afternoon, their bonds were removed. Arnold was told to turn around or else he would be shot.
Change of tactics
When their bonds were removed, the soldiers gave them food and asked where they were going. When the two said that they were going to a nearby barangay, the soldiers said they would accompany them.
When the soldiers finally went the other way, Arnold and Saturnino still felt that they were being followed and upon reaching the creek, they ran due to fear.
They then asked for help at Sitio Lungod, Brgy. Boguibog and spent the night there. They were advised to report what happened to the camp of the Golf Company of the Civilian Auxiliary Army of the 7th ID that was stationed in the place.
The next day, September 16, Arnold and Saturnino went to the CAFGU camp and reported what happened. The CAFGU then told them to go to the military camp at Padaoil, Santa Cruz, Ilocos Sur.
At the camp, two individuals in civilian attire talked to them. After a report was written and their photographs were taken, they were asked to sign the report. They were then told that an investigation would be done and were given P500 and two t-shirts.
A cavan of rice was also being offered but the two refused.
Before they left, one of those who interviewed them saidthey should not reveal that it was the army that did it to them. Rather, they should just say that the perpetrators are members of an armed group.
Every time Arnold recounts the incident, he still feels the fear that he felt when he was being tortured. However, his family and neighbors give him strength as they assure him that they would seek justice for what happened to them.