‘Government’s campaign for peace is crumbling’

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

The quotation is from Fr. Pete Montallana, a Catholic priest who has spent 20 years as missionary among the Agta-Dumagat tribe in the Quezon portion of the Sierra Madre mountains.

By continuing to violate the Agta’s human rights, he says, the state security forces (the military and police which he refers to as law enforcers) “are reviving the fear experienced by townfolk during the time of then Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan,” tagged as “the Butcher” for the numerous extrajudicial killings attributed to him.

(Palparan, arrested after two years of hiding and now undergoing trial for the 2006 abduction-disappearance of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, is held at Fort Bonifacio, headquarters of the Philippine Army to which he had belonged. The victims’ parents and human rights groups denounce the “special treatment” and demand his transfer to a civilian jail.)

In a published commentary, Fr. Pete wryly adds that the security forces are “plant(ing) new seeds of anger and violence all over Quezon, [like] how the dictator Ferdinand Marcos managed to recruit [New People’s Army] rebels” during his 14-year martial rule.

What riled the priest was the warrantless arrest and detention in Tanay, Rizal last September 27 of two Agta mothers by 16th IBPA soldiers and Tanay police, who accuse them of kidnapping, robbing and murdering a retired military officer. Sagibin-LN, organization of the 43 Agta communities in the towns of General Nakar, Real, and Polillo, demands their immediate release.

The illegal arrest-detention is the latest of many HR violations inflicted on the Agtas — such as kidnapping, torture, destruction of crops, plus the government’s not paying royalty for using their lands in the Angat-Umiray Transbasin project, and withholding the award of their ancestral domain title.

Earlier, also last month, the Tinggian people of Lacub, Abra suffered violent abuses during counterinsurgency operations there, carried out by the 41st IBPA.

Nine persons, including seven NPA members, were killed in grossly brutal ways with their bodies apparently desecrated.

Last Thursday the families of the Lacub victims, along with members of human rights groups and people’s organizations, trooped to the gate of Camp Aguinaldo, the AFP headquarters, to denounce the military’s “war crimes.”

At the House of Representatives, eight congresspersons have filed a resolution urging the committees on human rights and national cultural communities to jointly investigate the 41st IBPA operations in Lacub and the attendant abuses, and to recommend measures for the immediate pullout of troops from the area.

Since the people’s complaints relate to the AFP’s efforts to crush the NPA before President Aquino’s term ends in July 2016, the resolution also calls for the resumption of the stalled peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front. (In April 2011, the government and NDFP representatives jointly conducted peace-talks consultations in Lacub during the Cordillera Day celebration).

Authors of the resolution are Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte and the members of the Makabayan bloc: Reps. Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus (Gabriela Women Party), Neri Javier Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna), Fernando Hicap (Anakpawis), Antonio Tinio (ACT Teachers Party), and Terry Ridon (Kabataan Party).

The following are among the premises for the congressional investigation:

• Despite the petition of the communities opposing the establishment of military detachments, the 41st IBPA continues to maintain detachments near the Bantugo Elementary and High School.

• Children are tricked to snoop on members of the farmers’ organization, whose leaders are being harassed allegedly for opposing government policies they deem inimical to their interest and welfare.

• The families of the seven slain NPA members and an engineer aver that the bodies of their loved ones “bore strong indications of probable torture and desecration.”

For instance, the National Bureau of Investigation (CAR-Baguio) autopsies show the following:

• Arnold Jaramillo’s body was riddled with multiple gunshot wounds on the back and lower extremities. The skin surrounding one bullet wound appeared burnt, suggesting close-range firing. His body looked “porous like a sponge” and his internal organs seemed “macerated.” His upper and lower jaws were shattered “inward into his throat.”

• Recca Noelle Monte, a UP-trained engineer, was reported killed in the assault on the NPA camp, but her body bore no gunshot wound. Cause of death: “blunt traumatic injuries.” Her skull resembled a “crushed egg” with the brain missing. Massive hematoma and lacerations covered her chest, her left leg was shattered. .

• In contrast, the body of Fidela Bugarin-Salvador, another engineer, who was monitoring projects in Lacub for the Cordillera Disaster Response and Development Service — bore nine gunshot wounds that should have killed her instantly. But the “blunt traumatic injury” (back skull broken into particles), contusions, massive lacerations and hematoma point to possible torture.

• Brandon Magranga and Pedring Banggao both had gunshot wounds, but various parts of their bodies showed second-degree burns and scalding of the skin.

“These autopsy and post-mortem reports show strong signs of excessive use of force,” notes the House resolution, concluding that apparently “no quarter” was given to the slain persons.

No quarter means that – in its “peace and development” counterinsurgency operations under Oplan Bayanihan – the 41st IBPA didn’t spare anyone’s life, even if he/she could no longer fight back.

Such conduct constitutes a war crime, both under national and international laws. It achieves neither peace nor development.

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
Published in The Philippine Star
October 25, 2014

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