Ifugao farmers want military out of their villages

Northern Dispatch

LAGAWE, Ifugao — Members of the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM) complained of military presene in their villages during a dialogue with Governor Eugene Balitang, May 24.

Modesto Hangoy, a farmer from Gumhang, Tinoc said soldiers occupied the public school compound. He added that soldiers removed a poster of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that states “all schools are peace zones.” The soldiers also accused the farmers of using farm tools made by New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas.

Daniel Tayaban of ACT Teachers Partylist, said that military presence within school compounds puts the children in physical danger. Tayaban added that soldiers court either married women or minor in Asipulo.

According to the IPM, red tagging and vilification is part of the military’s counterinsurgency program dubbed as Oplan Bayanihan, The group said they received reports of rights violations from different communities of Ifugao.

Edwin Bumolyad, IPM secretary general, told the governor that civilians, most of whom are farmers, are victims of military harassment, threats, and intimidation.

“We, the farmers of IPM, are legitimate constituents, and seek rightfully the support of government in response to the social and economic crisis of the farmers,” Bumolyad said.

Bumolyad also reported that even the youth is not spared from the military’s counterinsurgency program. He said that recipients of the Kabataan Partylist scholarship program were harassed and interrogated by soldiers and alleged military intelligence agents.

“They are our children and yet they are unlawfully bullied and accused of being NPAs. Should we ignore the situation just because the government endorses the counterinsurgency program?” asked Bumolyad.

Benedict “Dick” Tangid president of the Tupaya Indigenous Farmers Organization (TIFO) in Lagawe, whose son was also a victim of military harassment, pointed out that some residents did not attend the Cordillera Day celebration here because they believed rumors sowed by the military, that the soldiers would attack the activity.

In Hapid village, Lamut, farmers said that the harassment began last 2010 election. “They [the military] called those who wore Katribu shirts NPAs,” stated Florita Laverento. During the Cordillera Day preparations in April, the village chieftain asked the local councilors not to allow volunteers of the Cordillera Day to invite residents.

IPM further shared that the military strengthened its efforts in recruiting members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) in the municipalities of Asipulo and Tinoc. There are 30 CAFGU graduates from Tinoc this year and nine from other municipalities of Ifugao. The group also reiterated the growing number of violations with the increase of paramilitary groups.

The group also expressed concerns about violations on the rights of indigenous communities in the process of implementing development projects such as hydro and geothermal power projects. The IPM also criticized government dole out projects saying that these are detrimental to the advancement of self-reliance of the farming communities in Ifugao.

The group noted that the military has been perpetuating the same failed policies to crush the insurgency but instead, it is the people who end up suffering.

James Tayaban, who is the Katribu Chairperson in Ifugao and works in the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, who was also present during the dialogue said, “We want long term development, and to be self reliant but vilification hampers the peace process.”

“We have to find a common ground to build trust. Government needs to deliver basic services and be sincere by listening and addressing the concerns of our constituents,” stated Tayaban.

Katribu President Beverly Longid said that vilification of organizations which the military considers as terrorists and enemies of the state is a continuing violation of the people’s rights. She added that the continuing militarization of indigenous communities not just in the Cordillera but nationwide results to the disruption of economic and cultural activities of indigenous peoples.

Longid said that Oplan Bayanihan is no different from Oplan Bantay Laya and the past counterinsurgency programs of the government which resulted to massive human rights violations.

“Militarization, deception and palliatives shall not solve the armed conflict,” she said.

Balitang, also the current chair Regional and Provincial Peace and Order Council (RPPOC) called for a peaceful co-existence of the people of Ifugao. He added that the problems of the farmers should be properly documented and presented to his office for further investigation and appropriate action.

“I will vouch for the IPM,” the governor said. “My role is to make sure that the people benefit (from government projects) despite their ideology.”

The governor said that human rights violations allegedly committed by soldiers are acts of individuals and not of the military institution. However, he encouraged all victims to file charges in court.

The governor noted that he will be against any project that does not have the approval of the community. He said projects should first undergo the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) process needed before projects should be implemented. Reposted by Bulatlat.com

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