Samar Island in Agony

Interfaith Mission reports 2 rights violations every day

This is one of those cases when cold figures can heat one up. From February to May alone, a total of 276 cases of human rights violations were recorded in Samar, involving the controversial Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan and his men. This means 76 cases per month, 17 per week or two every day.

By Maureen Japzon
Bulatlat.com

Tacloban City – Despite the presence of soldiers, some of whom even disguised themselves in civilian clothes, the peasant communities in Paranas, Motiong and Catbalogan, all in the Samar province, welcomed the members of a church-based fact-finding mission and shared their ordeals with them.

The Interfaith Movement for Justice and Peace came to Samar, an island in central Philippines, due to increasing reports of human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by soldiers under the army’s 8th Infantry Division headed by Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan.

Dubbed as “Interfaith Solidarity Mission” (IFSM), the group provided relief and medical services as well as interviewed victims and witnesses of human rights abuses in Paranas, Motiong and Catbalogan from June 6 to 9.

Samar in anguish

At the end of the mission, the IFSM issued a statement, describing the number of human rights violations in the entire Eastern Visayas, particular in Samar, as “very alarming.”

In three months, according to the mission, the number of violations had surpassed the number of cases rights groups and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) had recorded for 2004. From February 10 to May 30, 276 cases have been reported, aside from violations of international humanitarian covenants like the Geneva Convention.

Within the period, there were 76 cases recorded each month, more than 17 per week and more than two cases per day.

In just three municipalities, the mission documented 77 incidents, including cases of harassment, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, illegal search and seizure, violation of domicile, physical assault, torture and summary execution.

Fr. Calvin Bugho, OFM, one of the IFSM convenors, revealed during the post-mission press conference in Catbalogan that the documented cases were just the “tip of the iceberg.” He also said that a lot more cases have to be verified because many residents fear to speak out due to the “climate of fear” prevailing in the area.

On the other hand, Dr. Oliver Jimenez, leader of the mission’s medical team, said, “There can never be a healthy people in Paranas and Motiong and in so many other communities under the environment of terror and fear…the medical mission of the IFSM had proved many things: first, the militaritazation is happening in Samar province and in Eastern Visayas; second, many human rights violations happening in many forms is being employed and the poor farmers in rural areas are still wallowing in poverty and deprivation.”

The team examined 218 patients from Paranas and 57 patients from Motiong. Among the illnesses diagnosed were skin diseases, eye problems, ulcers and cardio vascular problems which, according to the medics, reflect the economic situation in the areas visited.

A total of 461 families from seven villages in Paranas and four families in Catbalogan received relief packs.

According to Rev. Danilo delos Santos, United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) North Leyte Conference and IFSM spokesperson, some villagers even cried upon seeing the mission delegates.

“The IFSM has given them a flicker of hope amidst the inaction and utter disregard by several of those who have committed themselves to public service,” he said.

Nightmares for victims

In the hinterland village of Sto. Niño, Paranas, the mission said 40 percent of the total household population had evacuated in the area, leaving farms and other property behind for fear of military threats and abuses.

Its barangay (village) chairman, Edgar Fabillar, said his constituents fled to Metro Manila and other barangays. Many had failed to harvest and plant rice while many carabaos (water buffalo, used mainly for tilling land) were sold at very low prices, together with other domesticated animals and valuables just to have cash for their “escape.”

As of this writing, one of Fabillar’s constituents is still missing. He suspects it was due to military abduction and forced servitude as guide in military operations. The family of this victim had already sought help from military authority, but to no avail. The four siblings of the victim are looking for their parent and are suffering from the state of fear.

Fabillar had reportedly received threats for airing his grievances to the local media.

Another village chief, this time from an upland barrio in Paranas, was beaten and tortured by soldiers in front of their officer, a Lt. Manuel.

The victim, requesting that his name be withheld, said in an interview with Bulatlat that he was tortured for almost a day while blindfolded and handcuffed at Manuel’s office in Paranas. He said the soldiers wanted him to admit to being a Bayan Muna (people first) member. He was only released after saying he was the barangay chapter head of the party-list group.

The victim said he knew Bayan Muna is a legal organization but did not immediately admit his involvement in the group since the investigators said it was a “front” of New Peoples Army (NPA).

The same fate happened to the barangay chairman’s companion who also told Bulatlat that he was twice abducted and tortured by military men along with several others from Paranas’ different barangays. The first abduction lasted for 19 days. He was brought to an alleged AFP safehouse in Canlapwas, Catbalogan City, and tortured.

Meanwhile, two barangay councilors from the same area had fled because of fear. Now only a few families sleep in the barrio proper, the majority preferring to stay in their farmhouses at night to avoid the military patrol.

The villagers interviewed by the mission members said bonnet-clad military men armed with high-powered rifles are the perpetrators of the different abuses.

It was evident that local government officials have been stripped of their authority to govern, said the mission statement.

“Barangay leaders would get shouted upon by these unidentified armed men claiming that ‘they only respect and implement orders from the general’; and insist that they must be informed and/or consulted on practically all matters concerning the community,” it said.

“In essence and in form, it is martial law at its worst not only in these places that the IFSM visited but expectedly in every community in Samar that the AFP has marked for obliteration.”

The initiators and participants of the mission included the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calbayog, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), UCCP, Franciscan Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office- Philippines (OFM- JPIC), Inter-faith Movement for Justice and Peace and Kalinaw- Sentral Bisayas.

More than 150 delegates from Cebu, Bohol, Metro Manila and religious men and women in Eastern Visayas joined. Bulatlat

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