“How can they say that they are for peace and development when they are terrorizing us?”
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Rep. Antonio Tinio of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party denounced the Armed Forces of the Philippine’s 71st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army for reportedly harassing residents living in Barangay Tibagon in Pantukan, Compostela Valley.
Tinio denounced the military’s acts of harassment and abuse, saying that it has done the same thing to the students and teachers in remote barangays such as the case in the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Lumad Development in Lianga, Surigao del Sur and the Blaan Literacy School and Learning Center (BLSLC) in Malapatan, Saranggani.
“We strongly condemn the AFP for targeting schools in their counterinsurgency operations, in gross violation of international humanitarian law. They should immediately leave areas where there are civilians. They should leave schools and communities alone,” he said.
The Pantukan residents have already filed a case against the 71st IB of AFP at the Commission on Human Rights Region IX office. They said they are being forced to admit that they are members of the New People’s Army (NPA). They also reported that the soldiers have begun hamletting their community.
According to reports, residents from Sitios Cadapa, Sapang Tin-aw and Sapang Lubog in Brgy. Tibagon were the target of the 71st IB’s attacks.
Last March 8, a certain Sgt. Macalanda, Sgt. Mabalot and 16 soldiers arrived in Purok 9 Sitio Sapang Tin-aw, Brgy. Tibagon. According to Karapatan-Davao, the soldiers came from Brgy. Tibagon and used a civilian dump truck owned by a local medium-scale miner in the area. They were in full combat gear, wearing complete uniforms and bearing high powered firearms. The army soldiers used the civilian-owned vehicle and sat among other civilians, using them as human shields.
According to one of the residents Karapatan-Davao interviewed, the military occupied their community, including three houses. They entered and used the houses without any permission from the owners who were thankfully away at the time.
“They did not respect civilian authority and rights,” said Nellyn Calva, 42, the area’s Purok chairperson.
On March 10, Sgt. Macalanda summoned Calva and another resident Herculano Sumilhig, 46, to report to the area where the military had established camp. Sumilhig is the the vice-Chairperson of the Cadapa, Tin-aw, Lubog Farmers Association (CATINLUFA).
“The military interrogated us for almost six hours. It was early in the morning and we hadn’t even had breakfast yet. While we were being interrogated, Sgt. Macalanda and Sgt. Mabalot kept forcing us to admit that we are members or supporters of the NPA and that we were trained as Milisyang Bayan (militia). We denied all false accusations because we are really just ordinary civilians and farmers,” she said.
Calva said that since the arrival of the military, the residents’ personal and economic lives have been severely disrupted.
“How can they say that they are for peace and development when they are terrorizing us?,” Sumilhig, 46, said.
The two residents said the military took pictures of them and forced them to sign a blank paper.
“They didn’t tell us why they we had to sign. They also had a list of names, and they asked us about the people whose names were on it. Many are our neighbors, and even my name is there”, Calva said.
On March 11, the military called on the residents from Purok 8 Sitio Cadapa, Purok 9 Sitio Sapang Tin-aw, and Purok 10 Sitio Sapang Lubog to gather together for a meeting of the government’s 4Ps program. The soldiers told them they were the beneficiaries of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) program. The meeting ended sometime after noon. After the 4P meeting, Sgt. Macalanda spoke to them. There were 15 residents from Sitio Sapang Lubog, while 17 from Sitio Sapang Tin-aw.
Also among the victims is pre-school teacher Maria Lou Lambo, 23, of the Sayong Edukasyon Pambata established by Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP). Sgt. Macalanda, tried to make her admit that their school was built by the NPA. She argued that the school was built through the efforts of the village council and is recognized by the Department of Education.
“How can I be an NPA? I am a teacher of the school, and We have a curriculum and module based on Early Childhood Care and Development Program (ECCD),” Lambo said. When Lambo firmly denied the soldiers’ accusations, they resorted to cursing at her and the other residents in the area.
“At that moment, Sgt. Macalanda became very angry and began shouting at us. He called us ‘tarantado’ (fools) and said that we should not try to play tricks on them because they know that all of us residents are NPA members. So is this what the military’s Peace and Development is all about? Putting the lives of civilians at risk?”, said Lambo.
The meeting in purok ended at about 5:30 p.m., leaving the residents emotionally drained. As a parting shot, the military warned them against forming organizations and joining march rallies.
On March 13 at around 1:00 in the afternoon, soldiers left the community of Purk 9. Again they hitched a ride with a civilian dump truck that was headed to Sitio Cabahian, Brgy. Tibagon. There they were monitored to have occupied two civilian houses.
Karapatan-Southern Mindanao staff dispatched a Quick Reaction Team (QRT) to document the harassment incidents in the area on the afternoon of March 14. A team of soldiers from the 71st IB led by Sgt. Macalanda established a illegal checkpoint at Sitio Cabahian, Brgy. Tibagon, and they stopped the QRT team for 15 minutes as they interrogated the members.
According to Rev. Jurie Jayme, Karapatan -SMR spokesman, by March 18, majority of the residents from Purok 10 had been forced to evacuate out of fear of the military who had established camp right in their community.
As of March 24, the military are still in the area.
“We are deeply concerned about these recent cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the so-called “Palparan Battalion” of the 71st IBPA, now under the command of Lt. Col. Camilo Ligayo. The soldiers of this battalion were trained by the butcher Jovito Palparan, and they are experienced human rights violators and breakers of international humanitarian law,” said Jayme.
The reverend said the military should be held accountable for their crimes against the people of Pantukan. these “Two years have passed but there are still no improvements in the country’s human rights situation,” he said.
Tinio noted that the targeting of schools in remote mountain communities with largely indigenous populations was linked to the Aquino government’s aggressive promotion of large-scale mining.
“In Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur, student attendance at the Balabag primary school dropped by half because of the harassment attacks of paramilitary groups who are working for the Canadian mining firm TVIRD. TVIRD is trying to start gold mining operations in Sitio Balabag, whose residents are primarily indigenous Subanen,” he said.
The legislator further pointed out that teachers have also been victims of extrajudicial executions by suspected state security forces. Last month, Loida Pagatpat, a teacher in Masbate was attacked by two armed men. Pagatpat was gunned down inside a classroom and in front of her students. She sustained two fatal gunshot wounds to the head. Pagatpat was earlier accused by the military of supporting the New People’s Army. She was already the third teacher killed in Masbate under the Aquino administration.
Tinio explained that a number of activist teachers have been murdered along with hundreds of others, including Vitoria Samonte of Bislig, Surigao del Sur in 2005 and Napoleon Pornasdoro of Lucena, Quezon in 2006, both of whom were regional leaders of the ACT.
“I urge legislators and other human rights advocates to help seek justice for victims of extra-judicial killings. The Aquino administration must do more to end impunity,” Tinio insisted.
Harassment against small miners
In a related development, the newly-established “green” political party Kalikasan party-list and the anti-mining liberalization group Defend Patrinomy! exposed what they said was the continuing harassment against small-scale miners in Pantukan. The same military unit — the 71st IB– is said to be behind the acts.
The two groups assailed the harassment of over 2,000 small-scale miners (SSMs) and farmers who held a three-day camp-out protest against foreign mining in Pantukan. The 71st IB reportedly blocked a truck-full of protesters who went to the military camp.
According to reports, the protesters put up tents last week in front of the United States and Canada-owned Russell Mines and Minerals-St. Augustine Gold Copper in Brgy. Kingking, Pantukan. Kalikasan Partylist noted that the large-scale mining project covers around 1,600 hectares and is a spin-off of the Ratel Gold Corp., a company notorious for its dirty mining practices in in Africa.
“We believe that these new actions of the AFP’s 71st IB towards protesting small-scale miners reflect the Aquino government’s policy of promoting the large-scale wholesale of our mineral resources. Largely held responsible by the people of Pantukan for the murder of anti-foreign mining activist Santos Manrique, who actively opposed the entry of large-scale plunderers Napnapan Mineral Resources and Russell Mines to take over the Pantukan mines,” said Clemente Bautista, convenor of the Defend Patrimony! Alliance.
The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) have imposed a “No Habitation Policy” over the area that threatens to physically and economically dislocate 10,000 residents directly benefitting from the small-scale mining industry.
“It is contradictory for the DILG and MGB to evacuate small-scale miners in Pantukan, citing the ever-present threat of landslides, and still allow the entry of large-scale miners. We fear that Russell Mines, whose mother company has a bad environmental track record, will just continue worsening the geohazards in Pantukan, but on a larger scale,” argued Leon Dulce, lead convener of Kalikasan Partylist.
In the meantime, the small-scale miners called for drastic reforms in the mining industry through a 10-Point Agenda. The agenda includes opposition to foreign large-scale mining applications and projects in Compostela Valley, and greater support and regulation of the SSM community through the approval of their application for Minahang Bayan and the provision of technical, disaster risk reduction and livelihood assistance.
“In addition to calling for greater environmental and socio-economic regulations, we commend the SSMs of Pantukan for also expressing their support for the scrapping of the onerous Mining Act of 1995 and the passage of the People’s Mining Bill. The People’s Mining Bill advances a domestic, needs-based and nationalized mining industry that ensures high standards for environmental protection and public health,” Dulce said.