“Teacher Lanie and her companions are the newest victims of a military establishment which—per the skewed, inhumane logic of Oplan Bayanihan—does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.” – Rep. Antonio Tinio, ACT Party-list
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — A teacher and five others were abducted by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Rodriguez, Rizal recently, prompting a lawmaker to demand their immediate release.
ACT Teachers Party-List Rep. Antonio Tinio said in a statement that Mrs. Lanie Latuga, a teacher of Dumagat children, and five others arrested in Rizal last October 7, remain in military custody in an undisclosed military location. Saying that human rights abuses continue despite AFP claims to the contrary, the lawmaker strongly condemned the “illegal arrest and detention” of the six.
Tinio said elements of the 16th and 59th Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army (PA) arrested the six civilians in Sitio Uron, Puray. The civilians were arrested in an area where there was a reported encounter between Army soldiers and New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas on November 7. The soldiers arrested the civilians accusing them of being either members or supporters of the NPA.
In the meantime, Army officials have yet to issue an official statement on the abduction, nor have they revealed where the six, who are mostly women, are being kept.
“Teacher Lanie and her companions are the newest victims of a military establishment which — as per the skewed, inhumane logic of Oplan Bayanihan— does not distinguish between combatants and civilians,” said Tinio.
“That they were arrested for being near the site of an encounter proves that there are more Palparans still running loose, victimizing militarized communities, unchecked by the AFP.”
Tinio called on officials of the 16th and 59th IB to surface the six and demanded accountability from those responsible. He said these Army units are notorious among the residents of their places of assignment for cases of human rights violations.
On October 16, 2011, three members of the 16th IB invited three girls into their camp in Rizal. The minors testified that the soldiers drugged, abused them, and raped “Mutya,” 17. On June 22 this year, elements of the 59th and 74th IB approached farmer Eduardo Dela Peña while he was tending his farm, punched and pointed a gun at him after accusing him of being a member of the NPA. He and his family were forced to flee from their home due to continued harassment from the military.
In December 2006, three soldiers of the 59th IB figured in the killing of 59-year-old Juan Sanggalang. The victim was shot dead around 4 a.m. by the soldiers who had sought shelter in his his house in Sitio Pinag-apugan, San Diego, Lian, Batangas the previous evening. Sanggalang’s companion, Roberto Espaldon (57), suffered gunshot wounds to his leg and stomach.
Sanggalang was a member of Habagat (Haligi ng Batangenyong Anak Dagat), a local chapter of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), which is a nationwide federation of fisher-folk organizations.
Witnesses including relatives of the victims rushed to the house after hearing sounds of gunshots. When they arrived, Sanggalang was already dead. Espaldon had managed to escape. Sanggalang’s relatives, however, saw the soldiers as they left the crime scene.
General Fernando Mesa of the 202nd Brigade, Philippine Army immediately claimed that the shooting incident was an encounter between the NPA and and government troops.
Abduction of civilians a violation against war protocols
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Rizal, in the meantime, also issued a statement denouncing the AFP, saying that the teacher’s abduction “is a cowardly act and a clear violation of human rights and international war protocols which mandates that civilians should be not be treated as combatants with all their rights respected.”
NDFP-Rizal spokesman Arman Guerrero said that while Mrs. Latuga and her five companions did not suffer the fate of Blaan tribe members Judy Capeon and children who were killed instantly by government soldiers in Mindanao, it was possible that they would suffer the fate of Jonas Burgos and others who were abducted by government agents.
“They could also suffer the fate of Mr. Rolly Panesa who was suspected as Benjamin Mendoza and accused as a leading member of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Southern Tagalong, tortured and being detained indefinitely with fabricated charges. The families of Mrs. Latuga and others are afraid that those illegally arrested will just add to the growing statistics of extra-judicial killings under the US-Aquino Regime,” Guerrero said.
The NDFP spokesman said the Philippine Army continues to enforce a news blackout about the encounter.
“They are still sanitizing their soon to be released report to the press. When they do, we are very sure that they will announce to the press that they defeated the NPA members with no casualties on their side and with only the NPA suffering casualties as evidenced by the bloodied withdrawal route and that they arrested 6 NPA-Rizal members though they know from the very start that the people they arrested are all civilians,” he said.
Guerrero also issued an appeal to the media to “seek the truth from facts” and “not rely on military propaganda.” He said the media should go to the area where the abduction and the armed encounter took place and speak to the residents.