By WENDY ATUBAN
Human Rights Watch
Posted by Bulatlat
MANKAYAN, Benguet – Residents of Barangay (village) Bulalacao here reiterated their call for the immediate pullout of the army battalion reportedly overstaying in their village.
Upon the invitation of the municipal and barangay officials and local elders, representatives from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR); Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), participated in a community dialog where local residents raised their issues with the elements of the 50th Infantry Batallion, in Tubo, Sapid, Mankayan.
The complaints of the residents stemmed from the sudden occupation of the multi-purpose hall by an AFP contingent. The multi-purpose hall hosted the barangay’s daycare center on the first floor. On the second and third floors are the offices of the Barangay Bulalacao Peoples’ Movement, the different farmers and workers organizations in this town including the local AnakBayan-Bulalacao Chapter and the Alyansa Dagiti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera (Apit Tako).
The military entered the place allegedly for an outreach program and also to ensure that proper institutions are benefiting from government properties.
Despite criticisms and appeals by local officials and community elders to vacate the building, the soldiers continued to use the multi-purpose hall as their center of operations and quarters.
Since the occupation of the military, some residents here claimed they were subjected to intimidation, interrogation and harassment. The soldiers also took photographs and videos of local residents.
This drew a reaction from a certain Sargeant Macasiray who defended this action by citing the Human Security Act of 2007 as supporting the collection of electronic evidence especially of people suspected of being illegal.
Beverly Longid, CPA chairperson, said the military should have explained their actions to the people.
Longid asserted that the presence of the military amid civilian settlements is contrary to the principle of civilian supremacy and the rules of engagement as provided for by the Constitution.
Lawyer Mary Grace Dalog of the CHR supported Longid. “The military should not be here,” she said, adding that there is no clear and present danger or armed conflict within the place to justify the soldiers’ presence.
The issues raised in the dialog, however, were drowned out by the military’s complaints about the use and ownership of the hall. Lieutenant Abdul Rashid Avila of the 50th Infantry Battalion said just because an NGO had helped in building the hall does not give it the right to own the place.
He also said he would stand by previous agreements between military and barangay officials that they would stay in the village until the first week of June. Avila, however, said this depends on whether or not their mission in the place is finished.
Avila added they leave only after the successful turnover of the building to the barangay. Avila was also quick to promise that when school time comes, the military will relocate.
Jude Baggo, CHRA secretary-general, enumerated some human rights violations that the military committed as reported by some residents. He said the military’s action can be classified as threat, harassment, intimidation and black propaganda. “These,” he said “resulted in psychological trauma” among the residents exposed to these military actions.