By ROD TAJON
Northern Dispatch Bulatlat.com
STA. LUCIA, Ilocos Sur — Human rights advocates condemned the murder of an Ilocos peasant and the continuing violations of people’s rights as a result of joint military operations in the area by the 50th and 86th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IB PA).
The fact-finding mission (FFM) team led by the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA) on September 15 found that Elmer Valdez, 33, a resident of Conconig East, was taken by elements of the military from their house. He was missing for three days.
His body was found later after a series of negotiations with the military and police and, after his family, barangay officials and non-government organizations were questioned and harassed by soldiers. The military denied that the family and barangay officials searched for Valdez earlier.
IHRA said Valdez’ body was beginning to decompose when his family and barangay officials found it in a shallow grave. This contrasted with the claims of Col. Soriano of the 503rd brigade in his interview with the media that it was the military who retrieved Valdez’s body.
Valdez’s father (name withheld) said his son had gone to the nearby hills to get bamboo for their kitchen at around 10:00 AM that day when soldiers allegedly seized him and accused him of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Valdez’s father said that the army men called out to him, and he responded, before they heard a series of gunshots and command orders from the soldiers who were conducting clearing operations near their house in Conconig East.
His wife later heard a gasp that sounded like it came from her husband, and she also heard gunshots and military commands.
The IHRA-Karapatan said the soldiers arrived at dawn of September 10 and since then, its continued presence has resulted in gross violations of people’s rights.
Some 200 soldiers from 50th IBPA and 86th IBPA reportedly conducted pursuit operations in the areas of Barangays Conconig East, Conconig West, Pila East, Sapang and Banbanaba and several parts of Palali Norte, Palali Sur and Alincaoeg.
The 503rd Brigade led by Col. Soriano and 5th Infantry Division led by Major General Rommel Gomez later reinforced the 50th and 86th IBPA.
IHRA-KARAPATAN’s fact-finding mission showed that the military has gravely violated individual and collective rights of the people in the communities here. The military presence also disrupted the communities’ normal activities, aggravating their already poverty-stricken situation.
Gun shots in the nearby hills have terrorized the children that people from Conconig East and Sapang were forced to run and evacuate their homes in fear of harassment and maltreatment by the military.
Parents hurried to fetch and evacuate their children from the Conconig Primary School.
Accused as NPA Members
Niel (not his real name) said he was gathering bamboo stalks when about 20 military men on patrol surprised him and accused him of being a member of the NPA. If he had not insisted that he was a civilian, he said he could have been killed, such as what happened to Elmer Valdez.
The same soldiers also threatened 60-year old Ben (not his real name) who was on his way to herd his cow. He was also accused of being an NPA. But he showed the soldiers his cow and insisted that he was just out to herd his cow. Later he was made to accompany the soldiers to where they could get some water.
Ben was held for four hours and later given P120.00 as fare, as well as a figurine of the Holy Family “to protect him” in case he bumps into other soldiers patrolling and conducting clearing operations at the time.
Two more farmers recalled a similar experience under the hands of the military. One was held overnight while the other was freed only after receiving threats and intimidations.
Illegal Search and Seizure
The FFM Report noted that three houses were illegally searched by the military due to suspicions that these were NPA hideaways.
It turned out that the occupants of one of the houses were senior citizens, while the others have children, and their guardians were not even aware of the on-going military operations in the nearby barangay.
Military Presence Threatens Communities
The military operations of the 50th and 86th IBPA affected around 500 households in the four barangays of Sta. Lucia. According to the FFM report, the operations affected around 70 households in Palali Sur, 300 in Conconig East and in Sapang and 30 in Banbanaba. The affected households of Alincaoeg, Pila East and Conconig West were not yet included in the report, said the IHRA-Karapatan.
The military claimed that all of the said barangays are NPA supporters. The soldiers also blamed the community folk, saying there would be no NPAs in the area if not for their “support.”
According to the findings of IHRA-KARAPATAN, people are unable to move freely in their community and do their usual routines.
“They are afraid to stay late outside of their homes in the same way that they are afraid to get out too early. They have set a self-imposed curfew in the barangay to ensure their safety,” the human right group reported.
The Solidarity of Peasants against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) condemned the military operations for disrupting the economic activities of the people.
Avelino Dacanay, chairperson of STOP Exploitation, said residents cannot attend to their crops and gather firewood in the nearby mountain because of fear for their lives and safety.
“The farmers are afraid to suffer the same fate as Elmer Valdez and other farmers who were held by the military against their will and accused of being members of the revolutionary NPA,” Dacanay said.
In addition, the Huey chopper that malfunctioned during a military operation has damaged several rice crops and farmlands after its emergency landing last September 10.
Jerry Arzadon, deputy secretary general of IHRA-KARAPATAN, said the operations conducted by the military is part of the extension of Oplan Bantay Laya II, the failed counterinsurgency program of the Arroyo government being continued now by the Aquino government.
IHRA-KARAPATAN and STOP Exploitation demand that justice should be served to all victims especially to Elmer Valdez. The groups also called on the military to stop their operations and leave the communities. #