Nineteen families fleeing their homes, a farmer missing, a number of residents picked up and reportedly tortured and human rights activists investigating the reports of violations robbed and harassed. These disturbing pictures came from Occidental Mindoro, showing – human rights volunteers say – an even clearer picture of government forces out to sow terror.
By DABET CASTAÑEDA
In just a year, the province of Occidental Mindoro experienced a series of military atrocities that left its residents in a state of fear.
Troops belonging to the 16th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine under Col. Salih Indanan have laid siege to the province, according to human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights). Two thousand soldiers equipped two tanks, five howitzers and three spy planes are reportedly deployed in the three municipalities of Mamburao, Abra de Ilog and Paluan.
Last Jan. 7, during a military operation in their village, Norberto Vargas, a peasant, went to the field to feed his cow. Since then, his whereabouts have remained a question even to his family.
Karapatan reports that witnesses saw Norberto being abducted by unidentified men believed to be elements of the 16th IB PA in Barangay Wawa, Iriron, Calintaan.
In their search for New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas, the military under the 16th IB PA and the 68th IB has pinned down several Mangyan folk, Karapatan said.
On Jan. 13 at Sitio Aglimasan, Brgy. Harrison, Paluan, Dino Tobias, a Mangyan native, was reportedly mauled by the soldiers.
Another villager, Ruel Arindain, said soldiers slapped him each time they passed by his house. He underwent the ordeal for six days.
In another incident, Anselmo Lotero said the soldiers hit him twice with a rifle butt while being held by two other soldiers.
Quick Reaction Force
Through the efforts of Karapatan and its regional counterpart in Southern Tagalog, a Quick Reaction Force was formed to investigate the militarization of the area.
However, in their effort to investigate the incidents, QRF members have become victims themselves.
On Jan. 22 at around 9:15 a.m., nine members of the QRF on board a government service vehicle were on their way to Mamburao to arrange their trip back to Manila.
Upon reaching a Comelec checkpoint, a certain Robert Pababa of the 16th IB PA ordered their vehicle to stop. Pababa then took the names of the QRF members. They were also ordered to show their identification cards.
The team was allowed to leave after 10 minutes.
About two kilometers away from the checkpoint, four armed men, with faces covered with fatigue shirts, stopped their vehicle anew. Once they alighted, the armed men announced it was a hold-up.
QRF members noted that the scenario was reminiscent of the murders of human rights activist Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy in April 2003 in Oriental Mindoro.
The armed men managed to take two cellular phones, a shoulder bag and money amounting to about P2,000. They also threw the vehicle’s key away.
Occidental Mindoro Governor Jose T. Villarosa said in an interview that there are no hold-up gangs in their province, suggesting that the harassment and robbery could have been done by the military to scare human rights groups.