Soldiers belonging to the 73rd Infantry Battalion forced a 10-year old boy to hold a chain of sub-machine gun bullets and carry an M-16 rifle. The soldiers then photographed the child and distributed it to local media with the caption “NPA child warrior going to school in Dlumay.”
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Evidently not content with tagging ordinary civilians as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continue to use children in its campaign to demonize the revolutionary forces.
According to a report by Katribu Party-list, soldiers belonging to the 73rd Infantry Battalion forced 10-year old Manuel (not his real name) to hold a chain of sub-machine gun bullets and carry an M-16 rifle. The soldiers then photographed the child and distributed it to local media with the caption “NPA child warrior going to school in Dlumay.”
Manuel is a Blaan student living in the remote village of Dlumay.
Katribu Party-list has released a statement saying that this was the latest in a series of vicious and systematic acts of harassment the 73rd IB against has perpetrated against the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (Clans) and its projects in the communities it serves in Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani Province.
The organization of indigenous people said that since November 2010, Clans staff, schoolchildren and their parents, and community leaders have been subjected to interrogation, harassment, vilification and ridicule.
“The soldier even went as far as ordering a Blaan family to exhume their dead pastor, who died of lingering illness, because he was suspected as an NPA killed in action,” said Clans.
Staff members of Clans said they tried to document these atrocities in detail.
“For the past months we have been trying hard to stand our ground in defense of our school and our community against against the platoon of gun-toting government soldiers who would not let us have a day of peace,” they said.
“ On February 18 no less than our program coordinator, Maricel Salem was interrogated by a certain Sgt. Jake Geron and Pfc Cabawbaw in the sub-village center of Datalnay for a full three hours. The military tried to extract information from her, interrogating her on the identities of the staff, the structure of the program and the institution, the source of funding, etc,” they said.
According to the staff of Clans, the military also tried to pin down Salem into admitting that their organization is anti-government. The soldier reportedly cited the center’s tarpaulin hung in front of the building wherein the center’s five-point agenda was printed. Clans has declared that it 1) supports the struggle for ancestral land; 2) calls for the protection of the environment; 3) stands against large-scale mining; 4) campaigns for access to basic social services; and 5) is against anti-development aggression.
“Your school is against the government and we will not think twice about killing anyone who is against the government,” the soldiers reportedly threatened Salem. The soldiers issued the threat while in the presence of Datalnay residents and the staff who bravely tried not to show that they were scared.
In the meantime, the military has also reportedly tried to create a rift between Clans and the community.
“They are insinuating that we pocketed the funds of the micro hydro project because it still isn’t finished,” the staff said.
The Clans staffers said the threats and other acts of harassment by the military are becoming too much for them and their young Blaan literacy teachers and staff. They said all their hard work and serious efforts to educate Lumad children in the very remote area are being destroyed demolished by the military.
“We want to finish the school year with the children and hold graduation!”, Clans teachers said in tears.
In the meantime, the Clans staff said they have tried their best to secure support from the local government by sending letters and seeking audience with the barangay council and barangay captain of Upper Suyan and even with the local government of Malapatan and of the province of Sarangani.
“But we still have to see any assistance or support from them,” they lamented.
According to reports, more troops arrived on March 16, 2011 in Dlumay and in other sub-villages of Upper Suyan. Residents have been reportedly complaining that the military have become more arrogant and vicious, interrogating community leaders for hours on end, terrorizing everyone.
“Given the situation, we had no choice but to temporarily move out of the area. School is closed and the micro hydro project is at a standstill. We do not know how long will the military stay in the area, or if they will be the ones to guard the mining sites of San Miguel Corporation, which is where our school and project areas are currently located,” said that the Clans staff.
Calling Congressman Manny Pacquiao
Katribu Party-list and Clans is seeking the support of human rights organizations and all individuals who are against military abuses to help Clans in their campaign to stop the military from harassing the school, the students and the rest of the community residents.
”We cannot afford to just sit down and swallow all the atrocities piled on us with nary a word of indignation or protest. We cannot and will not leave the Lumad children whom we have learned to love like they were our own. We cannot turn our backs on the community who have nurtured us for so long,” they said.
Clans asked the public to write letters supporting the center against military abuses and send them to President Benigno Aquino III, the Department of Education, the Commission on Human Rights, Rep. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao of Sarangani Province; local officials of Sarangani Province; and Mayor Alfonso Singcoy of the municipality of Malapatan.
“We want to resume operations of our literacy school, and bring back our teachers and pupils by driving away the military from our communities. There is a need to expose the real situation in Dlumay and its surrounding Lumad communities and in many other parts of Sarangani and Mindanao. The public must be told about the military atrocities and human rights violations happening here. The more people know the truth, the faster and wider our support,” said the staff of Clans.
With Katribu-Party-list and other human rights organizations, Clans has established Task Force Help our Children, Save our School ( Tnabeng e Dad Nga Mi, Tnamang e Skul Mi), and said that they are scheduling a fact finding and documentation mission to Upper Suyan.
Connected to Mining
In a related development, Katribu party-list has condemned the recent killing of a tribesman and accused government forces of routinely attacking tribal people.
“As mountain dwellers, indigenous people hunt and gather food in forests. We have been mistaken for armed rebels often. Our members have fallen victim to military abuses, said Beverly Longid, a member of the Bontok-Kankana-ey tribe and president of the Katribu Party.
“It is not right government forces keep committing mistakes in so-called anti-rebel pushes and at the expense of indigenous peoples.”
She cited an attack on Aggay tribesmen which killed one man and injured his six companions in February. The Aggay is an indigenous tribe in the Cagayan Valley in the northernmost tip of Luzon Island. (Related story ni Len)
Longid said the seven men were on their way to a village to gather bamboo shoots and rattan on February 9 when they were shot at. Local residents believe government forces were behind the attack.
“By merely suspecting that Aggays are members of the NPA, government troops already felt justified in attacking innocent civilians,” Longid said.
She said her group has documented several deaths in attacks since President Aquino took office.
“The government’s anti-insurgency drive does not distinguish between civilians and rebels. We are also convinced that the deployment of soldiers on tribal land is linked to the presence of nearby mining operations,” she said.