By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental –- During the recently concluded fact finding mission, armed men could be seen from afar, guarding the disputed lands of the 24-hectare Hacienda Baldevia. Since they arrived, farmworkers and their families have been living in hell.
The armed men, who introduced themselves as members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army – Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB), arrived in Hacienda Baldevia on Dec. 6, 2011. They have committed numerous atrocities ever since, in an apparent attempt to force the farmworkers out of the hacienda.
Worse, the results of the fact finding, solidarity and medical mission led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas show that their atrocities have spread to several towns and cities in Negros Island.
Killings, abductions, burning of homes, demolition, and, consequently displacement are among the atrocities that the mission has documented. But no one has been held responsible.
What is the RPA-ABB? How are they able to commit these atrocities with impunity?
A breakaway group
The RPA-ABB is a breakaway group of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The split was reportedly fueled by ideological differences.
But since the RPA-ABB signed a peace pact with former president Joseph Estrada, with Danding Cojuangco, a landlord and uncle of President Benigno C. Aquino III, acting as witness, in 2000 they have been integrated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines as a force multiplier and member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit, which is being used against the NPA and for the neutralization of the so-called “legal fronts” of the communist group.
Lelia Devero stands near a lumber, the only thing that remained standing after her brother’s house was burned down by members of RPA-ABB.(Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)
According to its leadership, they have some 500 members in the entire Negros Island. They are now hired by the provincial and local governments as such as to become members of Task Force llahas, a Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office-led task force against illegal logging. When the local government could no longer accommodate them, they are hired by landlords as private guards to quell the struggle for genuine agrarian reform.
Since the signing of the peace pact, the RPA-ABB has received $6.21 million out of the supposed $11.62 million fund, said Willy Marbella, deputy secretary general for internal affairs, said in a press conference.
Earlier in April, the Philippine Information Agency reported that Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo intends to finalize a peace agreement with the RPA-ABB . The official was also said to be pushing for the immediate implementation of the livelihood and development programs in the province as outlined in the agreement. Degamo met with officials of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to discuss a proposed memorandum of agreement that provides for the implementation of livelihood programs once the peace talks are concluded.
Under the Aquino administration, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process has reportedly released $720,000 to the RPA–ABB. Progressive groups based in the islands of Panay and Negros were quick to criticize it, saying that the funds should be used to improve social services.
“These funds should be utilized to improve much needed social services for the poor. For instance, the $720,000 can buy 17 million sacks of rice that can feed the poor families in Iloilo City. It is also more than enough to supplement the $488,000 lack of funding for state colleges and universities in Western Visayas,” Bayan-Panay spokesman Lean Porquia said.
Right after the dialogue with the participants of the recently concluded fact finding, solidarity and medical mission, the OPAPP issued a statement saying that they would study the findings of the mission, assuring that that “justice will be pursued.”
“The GPH (Government of the Philippines)-RPM-P/RPA-ABB peace track will need all the feedback we can get from the ground. We want to put a proper closure to this track,” OPAPP undersecretary Luisito Montalbo said in a statement. He added that the “closure track does not deal with nameless or bogus members. We have done member profiling and have undergone an inventory of their firearms. We can cross check if the alleged perpetrators of violence and other atrocities are indeed on the list of the RPM-P/RPA/ABB members.”
Montalbo said the OPAPP has “only signed a memorandum of agreement with the provincial local government units but no release (of funds) was made yet pending the signing of a closure agreement.” He added that the “funds are intended for development projects in the communities and will be coursed through appropriate government agencies that will implement the projects.”
But the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas thinks otherwise. “The memorandum is already signed. It is just a question on when it would be implemented and when the money would be released,” Marbella said.
Call to disband
According to Fred Caña, spokesperson of Karapatan-Negros, who is also a victim of strafing of the RPA-ABB when they conducted the first fact-finding mission on March 2012, calls for the disbandment of the armed group. The RPA-ABB indiscriminately fired at the participants of the first fact-finding mission.
The RPA-ABB, according to Caña, has gained political power because the government and big landlords coddle and use them.
The residents, through the help of progressive peasant and rights group, will file cases before the government agencies concerned. “We know that these are just some of the many atrocities perpetrated by the RPA-ABB in the Negros Island. We found more reason for the government to disband this bandit group, hold them accountable for these crimes. We seek justice for all victims of state repression,” Greg Ratin, KMP-Negros spokesperson, said.
Marbella reminds the people that these atrocities are rooted in the land disputes between landowners and farmworkers. “These cases highlight the need for genuine agrarian reform.” (With reports from Ina Alleco Silverio / )