A sleepy town in Samar is currently at the receiving end of intensified offensive military operations, driving more than 2,000 people, including women and children, from their homes and sources of livelihood. So alarming have the forced evacuations become that the World Council of Churches has asked the military to pull out from the region.
BY MAUREEN JAPZON
TACLOBAN CITY – The town of Basey in Samar, located 40 kms from this city, is known for its banig (sleeping mat) made from a plant called tikog. If reporters were to visit this place however they will likely call Basey as the town of war refugees.
Col. Joel Cabides, brigade commander of the 801st Brigade of the Philippine Army under Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan, recently admitted that there are ongoing military operations in Basey which explains the bombings and intermittent firing of automatic rifles. Helicopters also roam the area as soldiers and other men in dark clothes and bonnets armed with M-16s conduct patrols.
According to Diana Ragub, information officer of Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA-SB, a local people’s organization), more than 2,000 people including children from 365 families had taken refuge at the Basey municipal gymnasium from July 20 to 24 after fleeing their farms and homes due to military operations.
The internal refugees came from Basey’s five interior barangays (villages): Cogon (76 families), Bulao (115 families), New San Agustin (30 families), Cancaiyas (133 families) and Villa Aurora (11 families).
Basey Mayor Vicente Labuac gave emergency food to the refugees. An Waray Party list and the Leyte Center for Development Incorporated (LCDE) held a medical mission and gave relief goods despite the military’s reported attempts to prevent them from doing so.
Police Regional Director Dionesio Benito Coloma, who also heads the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council (RDCC), called the displacement of peasants due to military operations as a “man-made calamity.” He said that the RDCC will launch its own relief mission “if the situation worsens.”
Following a series of meetings with local officials and the military, the farmers were allowed to return to their villages. Local executives arranged the transportation of the refugees back to their areas.
Paquito Nacino, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regional director ordered an investigation into the mass evacuation in Basey.
Mass evacuation as a trend
Mass evacuation has become the trend in Eastern Visayas since Feb. 10 when Palparan took over as commanding general of the 8th Infantry Division, replacing Maj. Gen. Glenn Rabonza. Upon assuming the post, Palparan told local reporters that insurgency in Eastern Visayas will be over in six months (i.e., August 2005).
Consequently, bodies of unidentified people – apparently victims of extra-judicial executions – were found in different places. Only a few of the bodies were identified and claimed by relatives. According to KATUNGOD-SB, the number of human rights violations during the same period increased to 457 cases, or about three cases per day.
Alarmed by the events in the region, an international Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit was held in Eastern Visayas from July 14-21. Heading the visit was a delegation from the Europe-based World Council of Churches (WCC), the umbrella organization of 347 churches throughout the world.
In a statement signed by Clement John, spokesperson of Eastern Visayas team of the WCC, the delegates stressed, “The ecumenical church movement stands firmly that violence and war against the citizenry only perpetuates more violence and does not provide resolution for the conflict.”
The WCC also urged a troop pullout: “We pray that the people’s fear will be alleviated through de-militarization, that extra-judicial killings and interrogation, intimidation and harassment will cease, and that the people of Eastern Visayas will enjoy genuine freedom and peace, based on justice.” (Bulatlat.com)