“Some are very afraid to leave their houses and go to their farms. Residents sleep under their beds. Many community leaders were forced to leave because of the soldiers of the 28th and 67th IB who harass household members and subject them to interrogation.”
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — An independent solidarity and fact finding mission Duyog sa Panaw said farmers’ communities in Lupon, Davao Oriental have been turned into ghost towns because of the intense military operations. The 701st Brigade, notoriously known as the “Palparan Battalion,” because it was once headed by retired major general Jovito Palparan who is now the subject of a widespread manhunt for countless human rights violations.
Duyog sa Panaw conducted a fact-finding mission in Sitio Kalasagan and Logdeck from May 24 to 25. When the members of the mission arrived, military forces were highly visible in the communities. Currently deployed in the areas are the 28th IB under Lt Col Leopolde Imbang, Jr.; and the 67th IB under Lt. Col. Ruben Basio. The soldiers have established camp right in the heart of the communities, with some taking temporary residence in the barangay halls, while others right in the houses of some residents.
Secretary general of Hustisya – Southern Mindanao Bayan, Intise said one can be easily led to be believe that Palparan still headed the 71st IB from the way its troops conduct themselves.
“It’s as if Maj. Gen. Palparan himself is here through the 701st Brigade, the operational command of the 28th and 67th IB. Sitios Logdeck, Brgy. San Isidro and Sitio Kalasagan Brgy. Maragatas are like ghost towns, where the quiet of cemeteries is so prevalent amidst the military encampment and abuses committed against the people,” said Intise said. Hustisya SMR is one of the lead organizers of Duyog Sa Panaw.
A journalist, Nestor Libaton of dxHM-Mati, was killed in the region recently, while media groups have been denouncing impunity in the area.
Intise said in the areas they visited, the movement of residents is severely restricted.
“Some are very afraid to leave their houses and go to their farms. Residents sleep under their beds. Many community leaders were forced to leave because of the soldiers of the 28th and 67th IB who harass household members and subject them to interrogation. The interrogation sessions run from three to six hours, and they take place twice a week,” Intise said.
The mission’s findings also confirmed previous reports of other human rights violations perpetrated by the military. Soldiers were said to have subjected various residents to physical abuse and injury including torture. Houses were also searched without warrants.
The military, for their part, has tried to justify their presence and activities in the civilian communities by saying that they are there to hold their own investigations on the activities of the New People’s Army (NPA) In a previous news report, the military claimed that they exhumed three bodies, supposedly of military intelligence operatives in Sitio Logdeck who were allegedly executed by the NPA in 2009.
“Whether it is true or not that such an exhumation of military intelligence members had been conducted, it does not give the military any right to abuse the residents. Civilians are protected from military attacks by a number of human rights laws and covenants,” Intise argued.
The human rights advocate said the military’s exhumation excuse was only a screen for its true goal to hamlet and militarize civilian communities.
“This is part of Oplan Bayanihan. Communities where residents are active in campaigning for social justice are targeted. As things stand, human rights abuses against the farmers of sub-village Logdeck and surrounding barangays are piling up. Residents are living in constant fear and terror for their families especially their children,” he said.
Based on the records of the Karapatan-SMR, since January this year the towns of Mati, San Isidro, Lupon, and Banay-banay , called gulf town areas , have been the center of the 701st’s operations and they continue to bear the heaviest blows of human rights abuses. Some 1,000 military forces have been deployed in the said areas.
“It is alarming that military encampment in civilian communities is being condoned and is not even considered as a violation. Local government units have done and said nothing to put a stop to the abuses and violations against international humanitarian law and even ordinary criminal laws being perpetrated by the military. Their constituents are suffering from these abuses, but the LGUs are silent,” said Intise.
He pointed out that when Palparan was still in active service, the military abused its authority in areas where Palparan was deployed such as in Mindoro and the provinces of Southern Luzon. He said that even as Palparan is now a wanted criminal, his dubious legacy continues as military officers he trained now lead the 701st IB. “Palparan’s own protege, Major Jake Obligado, is the commanding officer of the 10th ID – Eastern Mindanao Command,” he said.
In the meantime, Lt Christy Achanzar of the 4th Information & Communication Company, 10 CMO BN, 10ID, Philippine Army in Mati, Davao Oriental has already written letters to local newspapers in Davao in an attempt to clear the military’s record. She claimed that there was no truth to accusations that the military makes a practice of arresting civilians and keeping them detained without formal charges.
“I have personal contacts with the commanders of the units here in Davao Oriental. You may personally see them and realize that people who visit the headquarters are free to go anywhere and not a single person is detained. Also, no government t troops belong to the private army of any mining companies. The government troops are at the barangays on their Peace and Development outreach program.
Legal attacks against 13 farmer leaders
In the meantime, the Alyansa sa mga Mag-uuma sa Sidlakang Dabaw (ALMASID), the provincial organization of farmers in Davao Oriental, recently filed complaints at the Commission on Human Rights Region XI, recently about the legal cases and warrants of arrest hurled against 13 farmer leaders. Almasid also participated in the Duyog sa Panaw FFM.
The group’s chairman, Lito Lao, said the military continues to harass leaders of the local people’s organizations. This, he said, also upon the orders of local landlords.
“Under Oplan Bayanihan, the military and land lords have connived to file trumped-up charges against 13 farmer leaders, including myself. All of us have been actively fighting for the rights of farmers and denouncing militarization. Now they want us in jail or wanted by law hiding, so as to paralyze the peoples’ movement in Davao Oriental,” Lao said.
According to reports, the farmers have been charged with qualified theft before the Regional Trial Court in Mati City for harvesting coconuts worth P50,000 ($1,163 ). Those charged besides Lao were Angeline Diones, Wilfredo Diones, Antonieta Diones, Jocelyn Dagcuta, Jesus Dagcuta, Artemia Olivar, Manuel Olivar, Eustacquio Tero, Danilo Rosalita, Leopoldo Diones, Naldo Diones, and Armando Diones. The main charges were directed against Wilfredo Diones.
A landlord named Vivienne Jubac filed the non-bailable charges, but Diones said it was the landowner who should pay him for services rendered and for the crops he planted since 2003.
In a report by Lorie A. Cascaro in Edge Davao, Lao was quoted as saying that Jubac failed to pay a total of P887,000 ($20,629) worth of the appraised crops which were surveyed by Almasid. Jubac in a verbal agreement with the farmers allowed Diones to hire farmers and harvest the crops, so that the income would be paid to him through his savings account until the total amount is fully paid.
Last year, Diones, together with 12 other farmers harvested the crops.
After two harvests, Jubac filed a case against the farmers for supposed theft and said that the total amount of harvested crops amounted to P52,000 ($1,209) but Diones allegedly did not surrender the money for the crops he planted and harvested with the other Almasid farmers.
KMP Southern Mindanao is now protecting the farmers and helping them with the legal processes. KMP SMR chairman Pedro Arnado said they are seeking the assistance of the Department of Social Welfare and Development to provide aid to the families of the accused farmers. Because of the legal cases, the children may not be able to attend school this June.
Jubac is Mati town’s clerk of court. Arnado said she clearly has the support of the 28th IB because the soldiers of the unit were the ones who previously destroyed Diones’ house and put a fence around the contested land which Diones had planted with coconuts, rice and vegetables.