Davao del Sur Farmers Decry Military Harassment

Davao Today
Posted by Bulatlat.com

DAVAO CITY — On May 4, farmer Bernie Marciano, was visited by soldiers from the 39th Infantry Battalion and 72nd Infantry Battalion.

“They were looking for me,” Marciano, 30, said, referring to the soldiers. “They said they just wanted me to be their friend.” Marciano has been a member of Patulangon Farmers Association (Patufa) since 1998.

Marciano said 15 to 30 soldiers from the 39th IB and 72nd IB are currently staying in the barangay hall of Sitio (sub-village) Patulangon of Barangay Zone 1, a violation of the provision in the International Humanitarian Law that prohibits soldiers from encamping in civilian communities.

Zone 1 is a village in Sta. Cruz town in Davao del Sur, where the peasant group Patufa engages peasants to be aware of their political rights. The soldiers went from house to house, as if they were conducting census. He said the 72nd IB has also been recruiting Cafgus in the barangay.

When Marciano asked why the military encamped in their community, the soldiers said they were just securing the area for the elections and to enforce gun ban.

The soldiers said they will get out of the village after the elections. But Marciano said the election was already over and yet, the soldiers are still camping and roving around their sitio.

“They roam around in plainclothes,” said Jolito Orquiza, 43, married with four children.

A boy holds a placard during a rally in front of the headquarters of the Eastern Mindanao Command in Panacan, Davao City. (davaotoday.com file photo)

Other soldiers wore uniforms but they “deliberately” covered their nametags with their rifles so residents won’t know their names.
“Now, they are calling for a pulong-pulong (forum),” Orquiza said. He has been a Patufa member since 1995.

Days after the May 10 elections, soldiers went house to house to invite residents to a May 30 forum in Sitio Malusing Proper. Soldiers allegedly had a list of 35 names whose names will be marked “X” and will be put in the order of battle (OB) list if they fail to attend the forum. But the military did not divulge who the 35 people were. The soldiers said the list was “confidential.”

The existence of such list alarmed the residents of sitios Patulangon and Malusing. They said that soldiers, particularly the 39th IB, had a history of abuses in their area.

In 2006, the 39th IB, under a certain 1Lt. Bruce Tucong, arrived in Barangay Zone 1 and invited residents to their detachment for investigation.

“They pressured civilians to go to their detachment. But once civilians got to the detachment, soldiers took their pictures and tagged them as NPA surrenderees,” Marciano said.

It was also the 39th IB members who were reportedly looking for Patufa members and leaders. Once, they came looking for Gina Bernardo, former chairman of Patufa, who was in Digos City. When the soldiers saw Bernardo’s three-year old son Kenneth, they took the boy and led him to the back of a neighbor’s house. There, they made the boy carry an armalite and took the boy’s picture, the boy’s aunt recalled.

The incident prompted Patufa, led by its municipal chapter United Farmers of Sta. Cruz, to ask the 39th IB to leave their village. Soldiers were still staying in the Coronon barangay hall at the time but they were roving in surrounding sitios of Malusing and Patulangon. The 39th IB was forced to leave their community in August 2006 because of the group’s demand.

But in July 2008, the 39th IB returned and started encamping in Barangay Tuban in Sta. Cruz. On November 11 of the same year, the soldiers went back to Malusing and stayed there until March 2009. They stayed in an unoccupied house in the community of civilians.

Within four months, soldiers were visiting leaders of Patufa, asking for the list of their members and other leaders. Formed in 1995, Patufa already had 105 members from sitios Malusing and Patulangon.
By February 2009, the 39th IB started organizing residents for its Barangay Defense System, launching a February 24 march rally with 300 recruits from 18 Sta. Cruz villages.

In May 2010, Gormi Malasugi, a peasant from Sitio Langan, Barangay Coronon,was on his way home from Coronon Poblacion when he met the soldiers belonging to the 39th IB. Malasugi was allegedly mauled. He was badly beaten that he spewed blood as a result. Malasugi was a bit drunk when he met the soldiers coming from a military operation.

After the incident, Malasugi had been hiding in the farm, fearing for his life. He reportedly asked for help from Sta. Cruz Mayor Joel Ray Lopez but there was no action from the local government on his case.
Marietta Bao, Patufa spokesperson, said people were not comfortable with the presence of the military in their area.

“I don’t know what OB list is, but we’re really afraid,” Bao, 51, said. She said the residents in her sitio were restless and worried. ”We really wanted them (the military) to leave our community, and not to live with us, civilians,” she said.

Marciano said they are afraid they might be caught in the crossfire in the conflict between Communist guerillas and the government forces.
“Our livelihood will definitely be affected,” he said. “It already happened before. The military prohibited us from going to our farms after they were harassed by the NPAs.

Patufa believed this was part of the military’s ploy to destroy their organization. They learned that in North Cotabato, the military allegedly had a list of 45 names — mostly peasants — in its OB list and one of those on the list was already killed.

“They wanted to destroy the members’ trust on each other,” a local organizer said. “In Sta. Cruz, the military was not able to break the unity of residents in sitios Malusing and Patulangon,” he said.

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