By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Grassroots human rights and peasant organizations in Southern Tagalog are poised to launch an all-out campaign to expose the increasing number of human rights violations in the region, specifically Quezon province in the Bondoc Peninsula. The groups said the Benigno Aquino III government has given its full-blessing to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to intensify military operations to clear areas for the extraction activities of mining corporations.
The broad formation will be led by different grass roots organizations based in Quezon such as Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights), PIGLAS , the provincial peasant organization in Quezon, and Anakpawis Partylist Chapters in the province.
Regional and national organizations such as Karapatan, Bayan and Kasama-TK will also play major roles in the campaign. Groups and individuals such as lawyers, journalists and church people who are active in the advocacy for the defense of human rights from both local and international community are also invited to support the movement and its activities.
According to Axel Pinpin, secretary of the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK), the Aquino government has targeted Quezon province because of its rich natural resources and substantial share in the total agricultural production in the whole region. Districts 3 and 4 of the province are more commonly known as South Quezon and Bondoc Peninsula respectively, and are considered to be the centers of agricultural production.
On the whole, Quezon province has 39 municipalities and two cities, covering a total land area of 870, 660 hectares. Some 513,681 hectares or almost 60 percent is agricultural. The Quezon coastline, meanwhile, stretches for more than one thousand kilometers. Given all this, almost 78 percent of the population work as farmers who rely on the production of coconuts, rice, corn and other agricultural products for their livelihood.
“Bondoc Peninsula is also called the hacienda belt. Thousands of hectares of land, however, are under the control of a handful of landlords particularly in the towns of San Francisco, San Andres, San Narciso and Mulanay. The towns Tagkawayan, Buenavista and San Andres on the other hand have very rich deposits of gold and other minerals,” Pinpin explained. ?
He also said projects of both public and private sectors are focused in South Quezon and Bondoc Peninsula. Some of these are the bio-diesel plant in the town of Gumaca, Mirant power plant in Pagbilao, Ogdel Bechtel Coal Fire Thermal Powerplant Extension in Atimonan, and the construction of a big dam in Macalelon.
“This politico-economic situation is behind the ever-worsening conflict between private developers contracted by the past and present governments. These conflicts have caused the displacement and dis-possesion of thousands of poor farmers,” he said.
Human rights groups in the region have already sounded the alarm over the continuing deployment of eight battalions of the Philippine Army in 22 towns of South Quezon and Bondoc Peninsula. In an interview with Bulatlat.com, he said this massive concentration of military forces has never taken place in the province even during the dark years of martial law.
“There’s no room for doubt that worsening militarization in Bondoc Peninsula is a part of the government’s counter insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. Another thing that’s becoming apparent is how the army has poured in thousands of troops to pave the way for the operations of mining corporations. They are not just protecting the immoral claim and control of the landlords this time, they’re also serving the mining firms,” he said.
Also in recent weeks, a party-list group closely allied with the Aquino government became subject to strong condemnation for its alleged collaboration with the AFP. According to reports, Akbayan is helping the AFP in its recruitment drive for the CAFGU. An Akbayan official, Commission of Human Rights chief Etta Rosales has also allowed herself to be seen working with the commander of the 74th IBPA in publicized activity, the distribution of land titles in Quezon.
For his part, the spokesperson of the Save the Bondoc Peninsula Movement Orly Marcellaa said that since 2011, Karapatan-Quezon and other groups have documented different types of human rights violations involving 127 individual victims. So far, there have been one case of enforced disappearance; four cases of torture; 15 cases of illegal arrest and detention; five cases of illegal search and seizure; three cases of violation of domicile; three cases of divestment of property; two cases of coercion; and 17 cases of threat, harassment and intimidation.
“And we have reason to believe that this is a very small fraction of what’s actually happening in the region. Given the large number of soldiers deployed, it goes without saying that the number of human rights violations are directly proportional to this,” he said.
The human rights leader said that only in the last week of May, two farmers were again taken by the military for interrogation.
Soldiers abduct, torture farmer
Last May 28 at around 9:00am, farmers Cesar Garaganta, Rolando Mendoza and Melvin Lacap were walking in the village of Vista Hermosa in Macalelon when they passed a house where soldiers of the 85th Infantry Battalion were staying. As the Garganta walked pass, the soldiers called to him, ordering him to approach. Garganta’s companions walked further on and did not hear the soldiers’ summons. This apparently irritated the soldiers, and they fired shots toward the general direction of the two. Mendoza and Lacap immediately ran for cover, leaving Garganta behind.
Garganta panicked and the soldiers forced him to kneel. They took his cellphone, tied his hands and lower body. They then tied him to a tree where he was left for 30 minutes. Eventually, one of the soldiers took him to a nearby house where other soldiers were waiting.
The civilian was interrogated, questioned repeatedly as to why his companions ran, who they were exactly, and where they were originally headed. As the soldiers questioned him, they also kept hitting him with a bamboo stick. At some point the soldiers also aimed their guns at him, and another threatened to cut of his neck with a jungle knife. His ears were pierced with a sharp piece of wood, and a noose was placed around his neck. The soldiers pinched his nose with a pair of pliers, and finally they dumped a plastic container full of live ants on his body.
The soldiers also kept shoving pictures in front of Garganta’s face, forcing him to admit that he knew who they were. The victim, shocked and extremely afraid for his life, could only shake his head and plead that he didn’t know who the people in the pictures were.
After the torture, the soldiers took the victim to the back of the house. He was blindfolded and presented to a man who’s voice he didn’t recognize. They only told him that the voice belonged to the second highest-ranking soldier among those deployed in the area.
The man told the victim to sign a waiver stating that he was not going to lodge a complaint against the soldiers. He was warned that if he did, he and the rest of his family would be killed. Almost incoherent with fear, the civilian signed the document and afterwards, the soldiers took him to the nearby barangay hall. By then it was three in the afternoon.
Before he was finally released, the soldiers forced the victim into a military uniform, pushed him aboard a 6×6 military truck and took him to the headquarters of the 85th IBPA in Barangay Villa Prinsipe, Gumaca, Quezon. There he was presented as a member of the New People’s Army, but the other soldiers in the camp said that they did not recognize him at all. He was then again taken to the truck and driven to San Pedro Laguna.
It was 3:00 a.m. when Cesar and his military abductors arrived at his house in San Pedro. Again the soldiers forced him to sign a document saying that he would not file charges against them and that he did not sustain any wounds or injuries while under their custody.
Marcellana said it was precisely because of incidents like this that makes exposing the situation in the Bondoc Peninsula highly urgent.
Save the people of Quezon from military abuses
“Our main goal is to put an immediate stop to the deployment and the pull-out of military troops in Quezon and to put a stop to the human rights violations in the province. Through this movement, we want to make the general public and the international human rights community know that Oplan Bayanihan has resulted not in progress or development but in countless abuses against civilians by the military. The victims of human rights violations continue to increase, but neither the CHR nor Malacañang are taking any serious notice. None of the victims have been given indemnification and none of soldiers who harassed, illegally arrested, detained and tortured them have been punished,” he said.
From June 25 to July 2, the Save Bondoc Peninsula Movement will hold its “Mercy Mission and Peace Caravan.” Marcellana said it will serve as the formal launch of the movement. Allied groups under it will journey across the province to provide medical and psycho-social assistance to Quezon residents. He said that children in the most militarized areas are in particular need for psycho-social therapy because they cannot immediately cope with the fear they suffer over the presence of the military in their communities.
“There will also be cultural performances that will dramatize the experiences of the people of Bondoc Peninsula under Oplan Bayanihan We hope to reach more people with these artistic activities and drive home the message that Oplan Bayanihan is not only directed against the insurgency, it targets primarily civilians, sparing not even children, women or the elderly,” he said. “All human rights advocates and civil-rights proponents should rally behind the cause of the Save Bondoc Peninsula Movement and help the people of Quezon against the abuses of the Aquino government’s armed forces.”