DAVAO CITY – Three top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines will be in the city’s Paquibato District on June 12, Independence Day to declare the rural area “peaceful and development ready”.
The declaration comes at a time when military and residents aired differing views on the district’s peace and order, with village officials complaining of harassments by soldiers against civillians.
In a statement, the AFP Eastmincom said arriving in Paquibato are AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista, AFP Eastern Mindanao Commander Lieutenant Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz III and 10th Infantry Division Commander Major Gen. Ariel Bernardo.
Bautista and company would lead police, city officials including Mayor Rody Duterte and officials from Paquibato’s 13 barangays for the culminating activity of the military’s week-long peace outreach mission.
The AFP expressed confidence that its “peace and development outreach program” and Project QUEPEPA (Quest for Peace in Paquibato) outlined in their internal security plan Oplan Bayanihan has now borne fruit.
“The said district will also be declared peaceful and development ready by the local and city officials on the same day. Different city dignitaries are invited to deliver needed basic services as a jumpstart development in the said district,” the statement said.
Gen. Cruz called on military officials to “engage closely the local populace, officials, IP Leaders, PNP and other partner organizations. This is Bayanihan, a convergence of multi-stakeholders for community development.”
Paquibato, a rural district located 50 kilometers north of the city, has a population of 38,266 and has been a flashpoint of armed conflict between the military and the New People’s Army.
Earlier, Mayor Duterte announced plans of a Malaysian firm to invest in a palm oil plantation in the area.
Duterte is said to have appealed to the NPA to allow the investment in Paquibato to provide jobs and income to farmers.
However, villagers and officials have complained of harassment committed by the Philippine Army’s 69th Infantry Battalion in the past months.
They told a human rights mission led by Karapatan last month that soldiers forced them to join a peace seminar and rally denouncing the NPA during May 15 to 17.
The mission also reported cases of soldiers camping in houses and village chapel particularly in Barangay Lumiad.
The International Humanitarian Law, in which the government is one of its signatories, stated that armed forces are prohibited to stay in vicinities with civilian population.
Celso Bughaw, village chief of Lumiad, had filed a complaint to the city council which responded with a series of hearings led by the council’s committee on civil, political and human rights.