By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – Residents of a peasant village in Northern Samar have asked soldiers to pull out of their community, as they call on the military to respect civilian authorities and human rights.
On Nov. 6, residents of San Miguel village in Las Navas town had a dialogue with soldiers of the 20th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. This was organized by the village council after it received complaints of rights abuses committed by the military.
Among those in the dialogue were village officials headed by Barangay (village) chairman Apolinario Lebico, and members of the barangay council; head teachers Lily Camacho and Ela Rodelio, of San Miguel National High School and San Miguel Elementary School, respectively. Also present were leaders of local organizations: Bennie Alegria, chairman of the Alyansa san mga Parag-uma Kontra-kagutom San Las Navasnon (APKLAS) and Sargie Macallan of Katungod-Northern Samar.
Fedelina Rosco, village councilor and chairperson of the barangay’s committee on human rights, said soldiers have been staying in the village and have occupied the barangay health center and public school without the consent of the local government unit. Soldiers are armed with rifles and other long firearms while they do their rounds in the area.
The village officials cited cases of harassment and other rights abuses committed by soldiers, such as accosting and interrogating farmers about the people in the military’s wanted list. Soldiers also fired gunshots in the air during the village fiesta, which brought about fear, and ruined the festivity.
In a statement, Katungod leader Macallan said the military should give due respect to civilian authorities and facilities.
“Social infrastructures such as barangay halls are venues for barangay council sessions and the like and not barracks. Barangay health centers are for medical workers and patients and not for military sleep-over. Schools are zones of peace and not battleground, which is why they should be banned from entering campuses,” Macallan said in a statement.
In response, an Army official said they still have to consult their commanding officer who was not present during the dialogue.
In August, teachers group ACT reported that soldiers of the 20th IB have encamped in Las Navas National High School in San Isidro village, also in Las Navas.
Military encampment and occupation of civilian facilities and schools are not allowed under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl). This was signed in 1998 by government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Peasant activists are also wary of the presence of state security forces in communities, with the spate of killings, arrests and harassment against their rank. In Samar island in particular, Eastern Vista reported that at least three peasant leaders were arrested and harassed in the past months.
in Eastern Samar on July 23, Belinda Capacite, a peasant leader and member of the local farmers group, Asosasyon han Kablas nga Parang-uma ha Can-avid (AKP-Can-avid) was arrested and charged with robbery, as the military tagged her as an alleged “collector of revolutionary tax.”
On the same day, in Catarman, Northern Samar, the secretary general of the Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan (SAGUPA-SB), Nestor Lebico, was tailed by state forces dressed in civilian clothes as he came out of an assembly of the Northen Samar Small Farmers’ Association (NSSFA).
On August 5, in Bugho village, Pinabacdao, Samar province, members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) interrogated and detained peasant Roger Cabigayan. The Cafgu men tagged Cabigayan as a “rebel supporter,” and tried to recruit him. He was released the next day, as some 20 farmers kept vigil outside the Cafgu outpost.
Samar island has been the site of the most brutal killings during martial law, and during the time of President Gloria Arroyo, when now retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr was assigned as military commander in the Eastern Visayas. It has even earned the reputation of being called a “killing” field early in 2009 after a priest was murdered in cold blood.
Macallan also likened the extrajudicial killings and militarization in the provinces to the Duterte administration’s Oplan Tokhang conducted in urban poor areas.
“While the media is ripe with news on extrajudicial killings committed under Oplan Tokhang, much has yet to be discussed on how the poor farmers in the hinterlands are systematically threatened, harassed, and even killed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in its counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan,” Macallan said.
Katungod-Northern Samar invites all sectors to join the #StandwithSamar campaign to be launched in a rally tomorrow Nov. 8. The rally also commemorates the fourth year of Typhoon Yolanda, to protest continued state neglect and corruption of relief and rehabilitation funds.