By ACE ALEGRE
Lagawe, IFUGAO — The region where the 2,000 year old famous Rice Terrages can be found have new residents, only they’re not of the usual kind.
The New People’s Army (NPA) is reportedly flourishing in Ifugao, and its members have grown steadily through the last few years when previously there were practically none.
The NPA is reportedly at the forefront of addressing issues such as abuses and human rights violations perpetrated by the military, as well as the impact of the operations of corporate mining ventures.
Based on reports, the first communist rebels came from Ifugao. The first guerilla base was also reportedly established in the late 70s and its members came from nearby Isabela province.
Late in 2010, local authorities were confronted with reports regarding increasing NPA presence in the region, but they refused to issue comments on the matter.
Last December, an NPA unit claiming to be based in Ifugao began to make its presence in the region felt . It called itself the “Nona del Rosario Command.”
Local authorities continue to say that “Ifugao is still a peaceful province.”
Ifugao police director Chief Inspector Laurence Mombael, however, admitted that areas near the boundaries of Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet are used as transit points of the rebels.
In the meantime, on February 27, three government troopers were killed and four others were wounded by NPA guerillas in Asipulo town.
Killed were Corporal Normandy Miravilla, Privates Norie Cohena and Wendell Clemente, all under the Alpha Company of the 86th Infantry Batallion based in the province.
Wounded were Private First Class John Paul Gorospe; Privates Jonel Canabang; Alfredo Liclican and Franki Liw-agan.
Based on reports from the Philippine National Police in the region, the three soldiers and several others under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Mark Anthony Bernardino were conducting combat operations in sitio Ampukuk, Cawayan, Asipulo when they ran into the rebels. The guerillas were said to be under the command of a certain Casimiro Binayon alias Ka Peter.
The police theorize that the NPA guerillas engaged the soldier to give lie to the Ifugao government’s boasting that the provinces of Ifugao and Kalinga were “rebel-free.” It was also revealed that NPa guerillas also succeeded in ambusing a unit of soldiers in Tanglag, Lubuagan town in Kalinga earlier in February.
Militar abuses and human-rights violations
In a statement sent to news organizations, Ka Wigan Moncontad condemned the increasing “terrorism” being perpetrated by soldiers, particularly in Asipulo Town. She said that it was the abuses of the military that was prompting people to join the NPA.
Soldiers, she said, occupy schools and other public facilities within villages.
“The presence of troops has become a heavy burden to the people. Soldiers use up firewood and even tear down school walls for fuel. They’re either too lazy or too scared to gather firewood from the nearby forest,” Moncontad said.
Moncontad also said that local residents in Asipulo who participated in the Brigada Eskwela at the start of the school year (2010) found cellophane-wrapped feces strewn around the schoolyard by soldiers.
She also said that there were many more military abuses. “Soldiers refuse to pay their debts in some stores, stealing chickens and rice, and extorting money from civilians,” she said.
In contrast, Moncontad said, the Ifugao people “embrace the NPA because of the iron discipline of its Red fighters and reject the criminal, violent and deceptive military.”
Aside from the alleged abuses, the NPA Ifugao also is paying attention to the operations entry of the Cordillera Exploration Company Inc. . The company has secured a Financial and Technical Assistance Application (FTAA) for mining operations in the province.
“When this corporation begins operations, the people of Hungduan, Asipulo, Tinoc and Banaue will suffer the same fate as that of other Cordillera communities ruined by large scale mining,” she asserted. “Residents will be forced off their ancestral lands. The forests will be cut down, the rivers polluted and residents will fall victim to various diseases connected to mining waste and pollution. The company is also sure to exploit miners and its other employees,” she said.
The entry of large scale mines and military abuses are the same issues that were prevalent during Martial Law; these were the same issues that prompted young and idealistic Ifugaos to the mountains and join the CPP-NPA.
The increased presence of the NPA in Ifugao began early in 2009 when policemen battled a group of young communist guerrillas reportedly entering via the province’s borders with Nueva Vizcaya. Four alleged University of the Philippines students recruited by the rebels were nabbed by policemen late in 2009.
The momentary lull in NPA activities after the supposed “foiled entry” in 2009 led the police to declare Ifugao as “rebel-free.”