‘Soldiers Burned Our Buildings Last Christmas’

And so this is Christmas, and what have the soldiers done? Burn the buildings of a learning center in Baler, Aurora province, said its staff.

Posted by Bulatlat.comBulatlat

Days before Christmas, the staff of a local learning center went home for the holidays but were forced to cut short their vacation after learning that their buildings were burned ? on the early morning of Christmas Day no less. According to them, this is clearly the handiwork of soldiers based there. In the past, the local learning center was accused of being a terrorist organization.

Elements of the Aurora-based 48th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA) of the Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP) under the command of Col. Joselito Kakilala allegedly burned three buildings of the Bataris Foundation Center in Sitio Binilwag, Barangay Buhangin, Baler, Aurora (231 kms from Manila) early morning of Christmas day, Dec. 25.

Bataris personnel estimate the total damages close to P1 million ($19,040.37, based on an exchange rate of P52.52 per US dollar).

According to a fact sheet prepared by Bataris, a resident living at the back of the Bataris office heard raindrop-like sounds at around 4:30 a.m. The sounds turned out to be that of early stages of burning inside a building called Che-Che which serves as Bataris’ female sleeping quarters.

Around an hour later (5:30 a.m.), a loud explosion reverberated in the neighborhood. The oil tank of two motorcycles parked in the Bataris compound apparently exploded. The motorcycles were owned by Eddie Pujeda and Joey Estriber.

Pujeda, vice-president of Justice and Peace Action Group of Aurora (JPAG), left his motorcycle in the compound when he went home for the holidays. Estriber is a staff of Bataris.

Concerned neighbors informed the Baler station of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the latter informed the Baler’s Fire Brigade station.

Bataris staff arrived a few minutes and together with neighbors and other concerned citizens tried to put out the fire. They also kept nearby buildings wet with buckets of water. Elements of PNP Baler came to the site later. A fire truck arrived at around 6:20 a.m. and the fire was put under control after 30 minutes. The Che-Che building and the two motorcycles of Pujeda and Estriber were totally destroyed.

The two other Bataris buildings ? Obeth which serves as a session hall and Ben & Pio which serves as the male sleeping quarters ? were also damaged. Ben & Pio’s walls were partially burned. No Bataris member was hurt because all of them went home for the holidays.

Bataris staff found a partially burned plastic container, a plastic bag and a broken steel bar of the fence which were turned over to the investigating officer, PO2 Larry Lorente.

Bataris members believe that the alleged arson was the handiwork of the 48th IBPA based on previous incidents of harassment against Bataris personnel perpetrated by the said soldiers.

The latest harassment incident was that of Alfonso van Zijil, executive director of Bataris Formation Center, and Manding Colcol, a Bataris member, last December 14 when both of them removed a streamer tagging Bataris, JPAG and Multi-Sectoral Action Group (MSAG)-Aurora as terrorist organizations from a tree along the highway.

Cocol and van Zijil were aboard a motorcycle on the way to Sitio Hacienda, Brgy. Nonong, San Luis to bring to Brgy. Councilor Morgan Novicio Bataris’ 2006 calendar when a gray, old model Nissan passenger car blocked them. Two men jumped out of the car – one wearing a t-shirt with “Army” printed on it, the other in plain civilian clothes – approached them, while two others remained inside the car. One of the men grabbed the streamer from Colcol and van Zijil, unfolded it and asked them if they understood what was written on it.

The man wearing an Army t-shirt introduced himself as an army officer based in Sitio Dimayaan, San Luis, and demanded from Colcol his driver’s license, which the latter refused to give.

The same man further ordered the two to go with them to the military camp of the 48th IB Charlie Company in Sitio Dimayaan, Brgy. Diteki, San Luis, which they again refused to heed.

“We proposed that if they wanted to talk to us, we could talk at the Office of Mayor Mariano Tangson of San Luis, after which we decided to return to the town proper. The car…turned around and followed us at close distance,” the Bataris fact sheet read.

Founded in 1987, Bataris served as an alternative learning center for basic sectors and lay people. Bishop Emeritus Julio X. Labayen OCD of the Prelature of Infanta chairs the Board of Trustees. Posted by Bulatlat.com

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