Terrorizing Communities: The Oplan Bantay Laya II in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental

As the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) noted a decline in the incidence of extrajudicial killings in the country, another face of the government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya II emerges. In Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, terror has gripped the hearts and minds of the people.

Volume VIII, No. 31, September 7-13, 2008

Since the latter part of 2007, the Central Command (CenCom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had declared Negros as its priority area in its counter-insurgency campaign. The CenCom specifically identified Central Negros, which includes Guihulngan, La Libertad, Vallehermoso and Canlaon in Negros Oriental and Magallon, Isabela, La Castallena, Himamaylan and Binalbagan in Negros Occidental.

Documentation by Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)-Negros shows varying degrees of human rights violations.

Detachments in populated areas

In Barangay (village) Linantuyan, Negros Oriental, more than 160 soldiers are encamped inside the barangay hall and the public market. They belong to the 11th Infantry Battalion (IBPA) and 32nd Division Reconnaissance Company (DRC) under the command of 1Lt. Joseph Buencamino.

Thirty more soldiers under the command of Sgt. Jerome Espino are encamped inside the barangay hall of Brgy. Banwague.

In Brgy. Magsaysay, a squad of soldiers belonging to 79th Battalion Philippine Army and 1st Scout Ranger Battalion also occupied the barangay hall. In Brgy. Tinayunan Hill, a platoon-size military unit stayed inside the compound of an elementary school.

The occupation of barangay halls was documented by Karapatan-Negros in July this year.

On Aug. 7, a platoon-size segment of the 11th Infantry Battalion entered the St. Francis College in Guihulngan. When asked by school authorities, the soldiers said they were looking for water and a place to take their lunch.

A teacher in one of the elementary schools in Guihulngan revealed that the soldiers go in and out of their school without permission. Their pupils, the source said, are afraid of the military’s presence.

Cedula, ID system

Since March, the soldiers have ordered all residents of Brgy. Linantuyan aged 15 and above to acquire a cedula (community tax certificate).

The soldiers imposed a virtual identification (ID) system; cedulas served as the resident’s tag number.

After acquiring cedulas, residents are forced to report to the Army barracks for picture-taking, census and interrogation. The interrogations would last for one to four hours. Others are threatened and intimidated.

Interrogation, red baiting

In Brgy. Linantuyan, Karapatan revealed that residents are presumed as supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).

A resident of Sitio (sub-village) Pinasagan was interrogated sometime in April. He was accused of carrying an M-14 rifle sometime in May 2004. One of the soldiers, who the victim identified as Silpao, cocked his .45 caliber pistol while conducting the interrogation.

Another farmer, 53, of the same sitio was accused of collecting food and P5.00 each from his neighbors for the NPA.

A 29-year old farmer was accused of being an NPA hitman.

A 47-year-old woman, resident of Sitio Alamag, said she was interrogated for two hours inside the barangay hall. A soldier, identified only as Silpao, told her that if she refuses to admit they support the NPA, it would be better for the Army to bomb her village.

There are more than 50 farmers who have been subjected to one to two hours of interrogation since the first week of April.

On May 14, the soldiers fetched eight farmers from their houses. The farmers were brought to the “Bravo” Company headquarters in Brgy. McKinley. They were made to sign a complaint of grave coercion against Lourdes Baloy, a member of the local peasant organization Kaugmaon.

Fake rebel returnees

A former barangay kagawad (village councilor) was accused of being a leader of the militia unit of the NPA. A news report said he surrendered to the Philippine Army. He denied the report.

On May 16, the Philippine Army called on all barangay officials to an assembly at the Hilaitan National High School –Trinidad Annex. The soldiers conducted lectures. They also said that all participants were ‘rebel returnees.’

The soldiers also ordered the barangay council to hold assemblies. In these meetings, the soldiers conducted lectures on anti-communist doctrines, and at times, threatened certain individuals.

In the same barangay, the soldiers coerced the barangay council to “pass” a resolution banning Karapatan and “supporting” the establishment of an Army detachment in the barangay hall.

Barangay Defense System

The soldiers also set up the Barangay Defense System (BDS), which they tout as their counter political infrastructure and as proof that they have “mass support”.

The soldiers used some members of the barangay council to list down the members of the BDS. Under this system, every able-bodied person is forced to perform the duty of “guarding” their detachment. Men are assigned in the evening and the women during the day.

Mock rallies

Karapatan-Negros said that the soldiers also staged fake rallies against Karapatan and Kaugmaon.

On June 9, some 50 members of the BDS and soldiers in full battle gear picketed the house of Kaugmaon’s Baloy.

On June 14, the military brought their assets and informers from the towns of Isabela and Magallon and staged a rally in the poblacion of Guihulngan. The “protesters” were accompanied by two trucks of fully armed soldiers. They burned the effigies of Fred Cana, secretary-general of Karapatan-Negros and Erwin Sabijon, chair of Kaugmaon.

While the Arroyo government claims that the human rights situation has improved, the people of Guihulngan, a city 30 kilometers from Dumaguete, continue to live in fear as soldiers who are supposedly conducting operations against the NPA subject them to constant threats and harassments. (Bulatlat.com)

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