They allowed the people, even kids, to hold their guns and pose for the cameras. Placed in front of the tent that has camouflaged sacks on top of one another is a machine gun. Two mortar launchers- short and long range, were also in display.
By JOAN GARCIA
In the middle of the area where the Kannawidan Ylocos Festival took place, there was a military tent. It was placed near the Information Booth, just behind the stage where the various shows took place. In front of it were the stalls of the different municipalities who showcased their products. Behind the tent was the carnival, complete with its two ferris wheels, carousel, kiddie rides and betting games.
For five days, soldiers from the 81st Infantry Battalion were present at the festival, which took place at the Quirino Stadium in Vigan City from January 29 to February 3. Some were roaming around the premises; others were stationed at the gates; and at the tent, there were at least three personnel at a time, all of them wearing their camouflage uniforms and carrying long firearms.
The tent served as their booth. They allowed the people, even kids, to hold their guns and pose for the cameras. Placed in front of the tent that has camouflaged sacks on top of one another is a machine gun. Two mortar launchers- short and long range, were also in display. A group of men, barangay officials, gamely smiled in front of their cameras to have their picture taken with it while also wearing the heavy backpacks placed by the opening of the tent.
Inside the tent are four other types of high calibre rifles including an M14, M16 and M203. A helmet, a radio, and map were also in display.
By night time, the soldiers take all the guns for safekeeping and join their fellow soldiers manning the entrance or roaming the venue.
While all of these seem harmless at first glance, Mila Marcelo, Deputy Secretary of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance-Karapatan thinks that their presence is more than just to ensure peace and order, as the Philippine National Police can manage it alone. Members of the PNP also roamed the grounds carrying their long firearms.
“They are aggressive in participating in such as part of the grand scheme of Oplan Bayanihan. They are keen in deceiving the people that they have ‘changed’ and that they are for peace and development. They are visible in many activities to condition the people that they respect human rights albeit continuous military operations in the Ilocos communities. Pictures of the military present in medical missions, disaster risk-reduction, bloodletting projects, and even festivities are all cover-ups and part of OpBay’s Civil Military Operations,” Marcelo said.
Beside the tent is a billboard, with pictures of the activities of the 81st IBPA in communities in Ilocos Sur.
“Behind these photo ops are pictures of militarization in communities and attacks on human rights defenders,” Marcelo added.
Marcelo recounted that on January 11, three soldiers, one of them who introduced himself as Sgt. Rommel Peralta from the 81st IBPA went to a community in Salcedo, Ilocos Sur to gather information on her and IHRA staff member Mary Ann Gabayan’s whereabouts. Several other involved in human rights advocacy in the region were also inquired about.
According to reports gathered by IHRA, Sgt. Peralta admitted to the barangay officials that they have been closely monitoring Gabayan and Marcelo’s activities and that up to this date, they are still communicating with these officials to ask for information about the two.
“It is expected that in the phase two implementation of the OpBay, human rights violations will become more rampant as the military will aggressively conduct triad operations- psywar, civil military and combat- supposedly to fight insurgency. In truth, it will do nothing but violate the people’s rights. The people should be more vigilant in exposing and opposing this murderous program,” Marcelo said.