By JOAN GARCIA
VIGAN CITY — In the last months of the Arroyo administration, cases of human rights violations continue to plague the country. According to the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance, (IHRA-KARAPATAN) there are 15 cases of human rights violations with 179 individual victims in the Ilocos Region during the period of January-June 2010.
These violations include extra-judicial killings, frustrated killings, illegal search and seizure, illegal checkpoint and the camping of military forces in barangays for the Balikatan exercises.
Harassed by the CAFGU
It was supposed to be a joyous event as more than one hundred individuals including children joined the convoy of Mayor-elect Jessie Balingsat for their thanksgiving motorcade in Galimuyod, Ilocos Sur last May 11, 2010. At around 5:00 pm two unidentified elements of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and a certain Lt. Zarate stopped the motorcade, claiming that they received a report that the convoy was carrying firearms.
With Mayor Balingsat were Vice Mayor Florence Bugarin, several Sangguniang Bayan (Municipal Council) Members, their campaign volunteers and supporters. The convoy passed through Barangays Abaya and Bitong in Galimuyod before they were forcibly stopped by the CAFGU personnel.
Despite the assertion of the supporters that they were just conducting a motorcade, the CAFGU members still insisted on searching the vehicles, even saying “walang mayor mayor!” (We don’t care if the mayor is with you), narrated one witness. Several motorcycles were searched. It was only after negotiations that the convoy was able to continue with their activity.
The CAFGU, led by Lt. Zarate from the 77th IBPA is currently based in Brgy. Bitong. The CAFGU camp was set up in 2008 after the 503rd Brigade announced their victory in Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) in Ilocos provinces.
Based on the monitor of IHRA-KARAPATAN, 10 communities with 7037 individuals in the towns of Salcedo, Sta. Cruz and Sinait in Ilocos Sur were affected by the Balikatan exercise held last February 15- April 16, 2010. Clearing operations wherein military forces encamped within communities were conducted by the 50th IB and 503rd Brigade even before the Balikatan started to ensure that the locals would welcome the American soldiers. As a result, community members were in constant fear for their lives and property.
The civil military operations launched by the Philippine military are dubbed as miniscule and useless by the community members as their own local leaders can provide it for them without the help of the Armed Forces.
In Pangasinan and La Union, fisher folks are still waiting for justice to prevail as their cases against elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP)-San Fabian are still pending.
Last January 31, Alex Nariola, Mark Edic and his 15-year old brother Ryan were fired at by elements of the PNP-San Fabian while they were fishing. The elements of the PNP claimed that they were using dynamite and are illegal fishers.
Ryan obtained gunshot wounds in the anal area while Alex and Mark were forcibly detained at the San Fabian Police Station for one week and was released only after they posted bail.
A month later, the same elements of the PNP shot at Clarence Estonillo, Jerry and Joseph Buyan while they were also fishing at the boundaries of San Fabian, Pangasinan and Sto. Tomas, La Union. Clarence, 21, was shot at his lower back while his companions survived the attack.
Until now, Ryan is still suffering from his wound and needs continuous treatment but his family cannot afford it. The same sentiment is echoed by Clarence’s father who said that their family is having a hard time coping with the incident since the cost of hospitalization is very high.
Both families have filed a case at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Region I last March but are still awaiting decision.
Even journalists are not safe in the Ilocos region. In Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, Commando Radyo commentator Eugene Paet was shot in the stomach by two gunmen aboard a motorcycle last January 7. Paet survived the attack but had to remain in the intensive care unit of a hospital days after the shooting.
The latest in the long list of slain journalists in the country, Joselito Agustin, anchor of DZJC Aksyon Radyo was shot last June 15 while on his way home to Bacarra, Ilocos Norte. Prior to the shooting, Agustin’s house was strafed last May 7.
Agustin is the third journalist in Ilocos Norte killed since 2004.
For IHRA-KARAPATAN, the human rights violations committed under the regime of outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should be accounted and paid for. In a statement, IHRA-KARAPATAN calls on incoming president Noynoy Aquino to address the issue of human rights violations if he really is sincere in putting the country towards the “daang matuwid” (right way). (Bulatlat.com)