By ALMA SINUMLAG
LUBUAGAN, Kalinga — Residents of sitio Ag-agama, Western Uma in this town are calling for the immediate pull out of military troops deployed there.
Elements of the Alpha Company of the Army’s 21st Infantry Brigade have encamped in the community since the third week of January.
Village elders have called two dialogues with the Army officers but as of press time the community’s plea remains unheeded.
“We cannot have peace until they leave our community,” Beatrice Belen, a woman leader and a member of the Barangay Council said in an interview.
Belen recounted that it was on January 18 when the soldiers arrived in their community. She added that they let them rest for a night in the sitio because the soldiers were all wet from the rain. However, Belen said that they did not expect them to stay longer. She said that she has confronted the troopers and reminded them that it is unlawful for the armed elements to stay in the community. The soldiers ignored her.
On the night of January 19, the women in the community called for a dialogue with the Army. A resident complained that the soldiers stayed at his house. The soldiers left the house but transferred to another civilian’s house. Again, the women went out to confront the soldiers who appealed to stay for the night.
The next day, all sectors of the community gathered for a dialogue with the troops. Residents questioned the military encampment but the officers said they were there for the Bayanihan program of the government.
Disruption of economic activities
Residents complained that the presence of the Army disrupts their day-to-day activities. Belen said that they are afraid every time the men have go to the forest to gather iwoy (rattan) for the community industry, soft broom making. They have bad experiences during military operations in the past that make them fearsome of the mere presence of the Army in the village.
“We are not free to do our regular work in the rice/vegetable fields with the troopers requiring us to let them know of our whereabouts,” she said.
Belen said that her husband was asked by the soldiers where he would use the kitchen utensils he was carrying on the way to the forest. She said that gathering iwoy takes at least five-day stay in the forest thus the need for food supplies and kitchen utensils.
On the Bayanihan
Buscayno Bommosao, a youth leader in the community, said that they do not need the Bayanihan program in their community. Even without the help of the Army troops, he said they can survive on their own because they have their own traditional indigenous practices of helping each other in agricultural and other chores.
He mentioned that they have an “Angkas” system (of voluntary, free labor) and the “Abbuyog” (exchange of labor) which continues to be practiced until today.
“We do not need them,” Lim-ay Bommosao said when asked what she thought of the bayanihan services of the military troops. She added that they can go on with their jobs even without the troop’s bayanihan services.
Siga Balcana, on the other hand, said of the military: “If they are really here for the bayanihan, we never asked them to come here and join in our Innabuyog or help us in our work. They are even staying in the houses of the community people.” Their presence, he said, only creates fear among the people.
Awakening the trauma
Residents have a reason to fear military presence in the community.
Sometime in 2009, one of the residents of Ag-agama was shot dead in the field by one of the soldiers operating in the area. The person was not even carrying any firearm, only his bolo (knife) but he was tortured and killed. One of the witnesses, a former soldier, told to the community that it was the soldiers who killed the person.
Sitio Ag-agama has been subjected to a lot of military operations in the past. In these operations, there were instances where troopers pointed their guns at the villagers on mere suspicion that the residents are supporters of the armed revolutionary movement.
Buscayno said that the soldiers are using the children to gather information about the members of the community especially those who are openly expressing their opposition to their encampment.
Using the Bodong for deception
The elements who are encamped in this community are all Binodngan (members of tribes that are exercising the bodong system). Most of them are members of the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) who have been integrated with the Philippine Army. These elements are telling the community that they will not inflict any harm because they are Binodngan and they know the culture of the community.
However, Balcanao said that bodong is being used improperly. If these army troopers really respect the principles of the bodong (tied the bodong on their guns), they could have removed themselves out of the community when the community asked for it.
“Why are you conducting operations/encampment in the communities of the tribes with whom you have forged a peace pact with?” he asked the soldiers. He added that it is one of the rules of bodong not to inflict harm on the members of your sister tribes. Creating fear among the members of the community is already inflicting psychological harm, he said. (By Northern Dispatch / Reposted by )