Abra Elders to File Case with JMC on Pananuman Right Violations

For a month, the military conducted intensive military operations in their village. Fields were bombed; soldiers encamped in the heart of the village; the people were prohibited from leaving their homes; and their farm animals were stolen. Elders of Tubo, Abra have had enough. They announced that they would file cases of human rights violation against the military before the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 15, May 18-24, 2008

BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) – Elders of Tubo, Abra announced in an interview that they would file cases of human rights violation against the military before the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The elders said that the violations inflicted on their villages in the month long militarization conducted by the 50thInfantry Battalion of the Philippine Army reminded them of a nightmare in the 1980s when the nearby village of Beew was transformed into a no man’s land after government troops burned houses, killed a pregnant woman, and committed various human rights violations – an event which became known as the Beew Massacre.

The Beew villagers then took refuge in Sagada, at the church of the St. Mary the Virgin, which was more than a day’s walk away. The late Anglican priest Fr. Paul Sagayo Sr. brought it to the attention of national media igniting the call for the withdrawal of troops in the area.

Last week, elders of Barangay (village) Pananuman, Tubo narrated a similar story that has violated their rights as indigenous peoples to community peace, cultural integrity, and economic development.

Some 300 troopers of the 50thIB took over their village from March 12 to April 12. The villagers were not allowed to tend their farms and animals.

“They bombed the forests outside the village. But the troop’s artilleries and their headquarters were inside the community as they conducted their war. The villagers were exposed to the crossfire,” said Dagson Buyagan.

Firearms are not allowed in the village. Pananuman is a peaceful village where policies and practices are strictly observed. The militarization disrupted their peace.

“There was even no prior information to the local barangay officials of the military operation,” added Rudy Sabino, a barangay councilman of Pananuman.

Sabino claimed that they have a barangay ordinance that prohibits bringing in firearms inside the community. They informed the government troops about the ordinance but to no avail. The villagers consistently invoked the same ordinance on all armed groups.

As the militarization inflicted fear on the people, particularly during the bombings, the villagers called a community meeting. “We came up with a petition addressed to the military to stop the bombings and withdraw from the area,” added Gilbert Ganipis, another councilman of Pananuman. They submitted the petition to the military headquarters in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur. The military later withdrew from the area.

Undermining indigenous culture

“When one of the government troopers was killed by the New People’s Army (NPA), they ordered us to recover the remains,” said Buyagan adding “But we only agreed to do it only after they have halted the exchange of fire.”

Because it happened in their village, Buyagan explained, they are responsible for the recovery of those killed in accordance with their culture. He reiterated however that army troops do not understand their culture and most of the time violate it.

In the retrieval of human remains, the elders are compelled to perform some rituals first, Buyagan said. “After a retrieval, the elders are to perform the daw-es (cleansing ritual). The sanctity of the ritual and respect for the dead calls for a community holiday to be declared for the performance of the ritual,” added Buyagan.

“We are to do these rituals at the villagers’ expense and visiting outsiders must observe these practices too,” he said pointing-out that “any violation of the observance usually done by outsiders would require a repeat of the rituals which is not easy to perform.”

Economic effects worry villagers

On the other hand, an uncertain future heightens the worries of these Tubo villagers because of the war waged in their community, which has forced them to abandon their livelihood.

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