By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Human rights advocates in Samar have sounded the alarm against a new ordinance passed by Leyte provincial legislators. The local lawmakers passed Sanggunian Panlalawigan Ordinance 2011-02 prescribing the guidelines in the conduct of outreach activities in the countryside of the province of Leyte.
The ordinance states that individuals, agencies or organizations planning to conduct outreach activities through community services, research, economic development program, leisure activities and fact-finding missions within Leyte’s territorial jurisdiction must first inform in writing the Office of the Mayor at least two weeks before the activity. Other local authorities from the office of the governor to the baranggay chairmen and police station commanders where the activity will be conducted are also to be informed.
Authored by 4th District of Leyte board member and chairman of the Committee of Human Rights Rolando Piamonte, the ordinance also requires the submission of mandatory information that include among others, the sponsoring agency or organization, the names and number of participants with their addresses and contact numbers, the specific location or venue of the activity, the rationale of the activity, and the duration of the mission or outreach activity. The authors of the case particularly cited the November 11 massacre of respected botanist Leonard Co and two of his companions as something that could have been prevented if such an ordinance had been in place.
Kathrina R. Castillo, head of the documentation and legal services committee of Katungod-SB Kathrina Castillo said that the ordinance was obviously the provincial government’s compliance with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and its directives stated in its Internal Peace and Security Plan – Bayanihan (IPSP-Bayanihan).
IPSP Bayanihan is crafted by the military through and through and its strategy “Civilianizing the Counter-insurgency War,” gives emphasis to the supposedly vital role of local government units particularly the local chief executives (LCE) to lead the war against the insurgency on the side of the AFP.
“No one is fooled by the claim that the ordinance aims to protect the public. The proponents cite the case of the killing of Prof Leonard Co and his companions as one of the main reasons for the passage of the ordinance, but we see that a cover-up is being implemented,”said Castillo.
Castillo said that with the ordinance in place, local authorities including the military will be able to thwart efforts to expose what really happened to Prof. Co and his companions. “They want to stop on-site investigations into the Co case and they want to stop missions aimed at documenting the countless human rights violations in the province of Leyte, particularly the Municipalities of Tunga, Carigara, Albuera, and the City of Baybay, “ she said..
The human rights advocate said that the Leyte provincial government was towing the military line that Co et all were caught in a crossfire between the AFP and members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“Most people here have no doubt that it was the military who killed Prof. Co and his companions. The testimonies of the surviving witnesses firmly confirm this – they even testified how they were kept incommunicado even as one of them was losing blood and the soldiers did nothing to help him,” she said.
Notorious 19th Infantry Battalion
The ordinance also cited that individuals seeking to conduct medical, fact-finding, relief missions and other leisure activities within Leyte risked being kidnapped or taken hostage by unknown forces.
“Nothing of the sort has ever happened because all the human rights violations in Leyte have been perpetrated by the AFP. The 19th IB is always behind the massacres and even the rape of women,” she said.
Just recently a married woman complained that she was raped by a soldier from the 19th IB. The soldier is a member of the “Peace and Development Team,” a label replacing the “Reengineered Special Operations Teams (RSOT)” but the functions are the same.
According to reports, 19th IB commanding officer Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan confirmed that a soldier temporarily assigned to the 82nd Civil Military Operations (CMO) Company was disarmed and pulled out from the area after he was accused of raping a married woman in Tunga, Leyte. He has however, refused to reveal the soldier’s name and said that there was an on-going internal investigation into the complaint.
“Officially speaking, he is still innocent as there is no case filed against him,” he told the media.
Non-compliance a crime
The proponents also said there are areas in Leyte where encounters between the AFP and military and rebel groups ordinarily take place. They also laid down that the ordinance is only applicable to “civilian persons” and non-government organizations and peoples organization. The ordinance doesn’t cover the military or any member of the military as they are combatants.
In the meantime, the ordinance also penalizes those found violating its provisions; they will be fined P1,000 to P5,000 or be imprisoned for one to six months at the discretion of the regional courts.
“Nowhere in the Revised Penal Code or in the Constitution is there a crime or felony of ‘not informing the Governor.’ Such an act can never be classified as contrary to moral, public policy, or public order. ‘Not informing the Governor’ also can never be considered as a violation or a transgression to the general welfare; those who do this cannot be slapped with penal sanctions,” said Castillo.
Castillo said the Leyte ordinance is not the first in the Philippines.
“The first such ordinance was passed in Negros. The ordinance in Negros is worded almost the same as Ordinance 2011-02, and it was passed directly through the effort of the AFP’s 3rd Infantry Division. The Sanggunian Panlalawigan should never have come up with such a ruling. It should come up with ordinances that will help the people like rulings supportive of land reform and the pull-out of the 19th Infantry Battalion from all baranggays and the entire province,” she concluded.