Even if controversial Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan is set to retire on September 11, residents of Central Luzon are still gripped in fear. They said that Palparan has failed in what he has set out to do and that the full extent of the damage he has done may only be known after all the soldiers have gone.
By ABNER BOLOS
Gitnang Luzon News Service
Posted by Bulatlat.com
STO. DOMINGO, Nueva Ecija—Alfredo Ayungan, 63, sat on the half-built porch of the house beside the small chapel along the Maharlika highway and watched the dawn break. He and three of his sons have sought refuge here since August 30 to evade possible attack from soldiers who have set up camp in their village in Kulong, Guimba, Nueva Ecija (140 kms. north of Manila).
At dawn on August 29, armed men believed to be government troops set fire to the house of one of his sons. No one was in the house this happened because his son James, 40, a village council member, had left the village on July 7 when the soldiers from the 71st Infantry Battalion (IB) began calling on residents for meetings and interrogations.
James is reportedly on top of the soldiers’ list of village residents suspected of being supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA). He decided to leave the village to avoid human rights abuses and his possible execution.
After James’s house was torched, his father and two of his brothers also left the village and sought refuge in a church of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in the neighboring town of Sto. Domingo.
“Kung hindi kami umalis doon, baka libing ko na ang araw na ito,” (If we did not leave, today might be the day of my burial), Alfredo said as he expressed bitterness on how the military have disrupted their life in the village.
The elder Ayungan also serves as a village council member and is chairperson of the Barangay Agrarian Reform Committee, a government unit in the village tasked to assist the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
Alfredo is a beneficiary of a two-hectare farm lot from the government’s agrarian reform program. He has given parts of the farm to his sons and kept a 6,200 sq. m. farm lot for his own use.
He is sure that he and his sons are targets of military attack. He is among some 15 village residents who are in the military’s list and have undergone interrogation since July 7.
He said that those summoned by the soldiers were also ordered to build the soldiers’ barracks and its fortifications without pay for almost a month. They cut bamboo and hauled them on their backs over a distance of some three kilometers to Purok 6 where the detachment is being built. They also filled sacks with sand from the river and carried the sand bags to the barracks which were used as fortification.
Suffering the fate of Julie Velasquez
On August 28 while attending a wake beside the military detachment in the village, he was a told by another village council member that he overheard the soldiers saying the elder Ayungan will be the next to suffer the fate of Julie Velasquez. The latter, also a Kulong village council member, was shot and killed allegedly by soldiers on the night of August 16.
Velasquez is the 108th victim of extra-judicial executions in Central Luzon since 2001 and the 71st victim since Palparan was stationed in the region.
Alfredo said that many people saw who killed Velasquez but they refused to testify out of fear. He quoted witnesses as saying that the gunmen even fired a warning shot in the air and ordered people to lie on the ground before shooting Velasquez.
Alfredo said Velasquez was also summoned by the military several times and he was suspected as an NPA supporter.
Rev. Fr. Renato Respicio IFI parish priest in Sto. Domingo, said that the military failed in what it has set out to do. “Kung ang pakay nila ay magdala ng kaunlaran, kapayapaan at demokrasya tulad ng kanilang sinasabi ay bigo sila.” (If the military’s objective is to bring progress, peace and democracy as what they said, then they have failed.)
“There is no progress since the livelihood activities of the people especially farming were disrupted. There is also no peace and democracy because the communities were shrouded in fear. Their voices were stifled and they were made to say what the soldiers want to hear,” Respicio said.
He said his personal knowledge on what happened in nearby villages led him to believe that the same things occurred in other communities and provinces where the soldiers under the command of Palparan conducted counter-insurgency operations.
For James Ayungan, the real stories will only be heard after the soldiers have left the villages and people have gotten over their fear.
“What we are hearing so far are only the stories of those brave enough to speak out. Entire villages have been terrorized and people have chosen to be silent for fear of their own safety,” Ayungan said.
This also explains the lack of witnesses in most of the cases when it is obvious that a number of abductions and killings were done in broad daylight or in the presence of many people, he said.
Away from home
It was his fourth morning away from his home and his farm. The elder Ayungan laments that he is not used to being idle and away from his work in the farm. “Mahirap na nga ang buhay namin, lalo pang humirap ngayon. Sila ang nagdala ng ganitong mas matinding hirap.” (Life has been hard but it is worse today. They [military] brought this additional hardships.)
There is no way for him to return to his village as long as the soldiers are still there, he said, adding that many have been killed with the mistaken belief that they will be treated differently from other victims.
He looks forward to the day that they will once again enjoy peace in the village. “Ipagpapatuloy namin ang pagpapaunlad ng aming buhay dahil ito naman ang nagbibigkis sa amin at marahil ang dahilan kung bakit kami pinagbibintangang rebelde.” (We will continue to improve our lives because this is what unites us and maybe the reason we are being suspected as being rebels.) (Bulatlat.com)