BAGUIO CITY — Massive militarization is intensifying warlordism and worsening the peace and order situation in Abra, said Diego Wadagan, spokesperson of the Agustin Begnalen Command (NPA-Abra), in a May 3 statement sent to Nordis via email.
In a statement Wadagan said the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines) AFP have been bragging about the improved peace and order situation in Abra because private armed groups (PAGs) have been dismantled and the CPP-NPA-CPDF will be “reduced to an inconsequential level” by the end of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term.
The PNP and the AFP deployed hundreds of regular and special troops in the province for these objectives. The PNP Task Force Abra, organized in 2001 to go after PAGs, has been augmented by forces from the Cordillera Regional Mobile Group and the PNP’s elite Special Action Force. The Philippine Army’s 503rd Brigade relocated to Abra in 2008 and is focusing its operations in North-Central and Southern Abra and the borders of Ilocos Sur and Mountain Province.
The elite 53rd Division Recon Coy; and a company of the 77th “Cadre” IB are also deployed in the province. The AFP has about 1,200 troops in the province, augmented by about 10 CAFGU companies. Added to these, the PNP has about 500 provincial policemen, augmented by some 200 troops from the regional and national PNP organization.
Recently, the PNP and AFP announced the deployment of an additional 800 troops to Abra as response to election-related violence, highlighted by the involvement of key political figures in the province such as the Luna clan.
According to Wadagan, the 503rd Brigade’s 41st IB and the 50th IB regularly commit human rights violations and criminal offenses where they operate. The Special Operations Teams spread deception and black-propaganda, through their civil-military operations. Operations of the 503rd Brigade use terror tactics such as indiscriminate bombing, artillery shelling, and strafing.
Wadagan further stated that the local folks who meet operating troops in the forests, fields or on the road are held captive for up to three days with meager food and no blankets on cold nights, and are harassed and accused of being NPA guerillas or supporters. Some are tortured and physically abused.
NPA Abra said communities live under virtual martial law: curfews are imposed, freedom of movement is curtailed, and peasants are required to obtain permits to go and tend to their farms and their work animals or to visit neighboring communities and the town center of Bangued.
Common community gatherings and activities are monitored. Community leaders or anyone who questions the activities and intentions of the AFP are harassed, photographed, and regularly “invited for questioning” or are “visited” in their homes anytime by soldiers. Soldiers circulate pictures allegedly proving the links between certain individuals and the revolutionary movement to justify their “surrender” campaign or to simply declare certain persons as “open targets.”
Wadagan said crimes abound where PA troopers operate. Families are destroyed because part of SOT tactics is to lure local women into illicit relations or one-night stands; the youth and older men are asked to join drinking sprees that end up in brawls and public disturbances. Local officials and elders who confront unruly soldiers are commonly disrespected and threatened with rifles.
In Mataragan, soldiers of the Charlie Coy, 41 IB defecated in the community water tank. Enraged local leaders demanded the punishment of the perpetrators but were instead disrespected by arrogant army officers.
Last May 1, troops of the Bravo Coy, 41 IB under 1 Lt. Federico Morales shot and killed Levi Mamac, 22, a resident of Talampac, Lacub. The soldiers blamed a local drunk for the incident.
The troopers hurriedly left the area last May 2 after an autopsy revealed the victim was shot in the head by an M16 rifle. Only the soldiers had M16 rifles. A media blackout has been imposed regarding the incident and the PNP refused to investigate despite the alleged admission made by soldiers who perpetrated the crime, Wadagan said.
Ironically, the PNP and the 503 Brigade are heralded as the peacekeepers of Abra when it is they who are in cahoots with private armed groups of power-hungry warlord-politicians. Wadagan concluded that the truth is that these so-called law enforcers and peacekeepers are actually law-breakers and criminals working hand in glove with corrupt politicians and destructive large-scale mining firms.#