By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
BAGUIO CITY – A leader of the Aggay tribe was tortured and arrested by the members of the Charlie company of the 17th Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army (IBPA) and the Regional Mobile Group (RMG) of the Philippine National Police.
According to Katribu partylist, Vicente Agbayani, 48, resident of Masi village, Rizal, Cagayan was taken by armed men on July 23.
Based on the report received by Katribu party list, Agbayani was working at their kaingin (slash and burn farm) with his wife, Salomea when the men arrested him without a warrant. “He was not only arrested. He was even tortured physically and blindfolded,” Salomea was quoted as saying.
Agbayani did not know of any reason for the state forces to arrest him. Salomea, who was pregnant, was even hit when she attempted to follow her husband.
Witnesses said Agabayani was brought to the town center of the municipality of Lazam, Cagayan. The soldiers and policemen allegedly claimed that Agbayani was arrested because he is suspected of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Relatives and neighbors searched for Agbayani for days. They found him at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), Tuguegarao City after he was charged with five counts of multiple murder and two frustrated murder for allegedly being part of the ambush that killed five police officers in Rizal.
Since July 21, at least 50 elements of the 17th IBPA and of RMG have been conducting joint combat operations within the municipalities of Sto. Niño, Piat, Rizal and Lazam.
Agbayani is also a leader of the peasant group Timpuyog Dagiti Mannalon nga Aggay iti Zinundungan Valley and of the local chapter of Katribu.
Beverly Longid, president of Katribu, in an interview, said this is the third time that Aggays, indigenous peoples in Cagayan, are subjected to human rights violations in a span of less than five months.
“We condemn these actions of the military against an innocent Aggay for there was no valid reason for them to arrest him,” Longid said.
She recalled that last March, a family of Aggay was shot by soldiers while they were in the Sierra Madre mountains gathering food. One member of the family died. She said that the incident was due to the soldiers’ suspicion that they are members of the NPA.
Moreover, she also recalled that on March this year, a ten-year old boy belonging to the B’laan tribe in Sarangani was forced by the military to carry arms and had taken pictures of him.
“These violations, Longid said, are clear evidence that there is no change in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Is this what they call Bayanihan?,” she asked.
Longid called on her fellow indigenous peoples, especially those in the countryside, to be vigilant because with the “deceptive” Oplan Bayanihan, she said that people are more vulnerable to human rights violations.