“They are here to provide protection to those claiming the lands we till.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – A peasant organization assailed the ongoing military operations in a municipality in Batangas, where soldiers harass and threaten farmers who are government land reform beneficiaries to admit that they are members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
In July 26, a day after President Duterte announced a unilateral ceasefire on military operations against the New People’s Army, soldiers from the 16th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and the 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force arrived in Sitio (sub-village) Santolan, Coral ni Lopez village in Calaca town and began harassing residents.
“Magsasaka kayo sa umaga pero sa gabi mayroon kayong armas! (You may be farmers by day, but you are armed at night)” soldiers told the farmers.
The farmers, who are holders of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) and beneficiaries of the government’s land reform program, were also told that their names are listed in the Order of Battle, a military hitlist.
The community has been enduring the military operations by the joint forces of the Philippine Army and Philippine Air Force since December 2015.
“Farmers are subjected to daily harassment and intimidation as a result of the intensified military operations. Many farmers were forced to flee their homes and farmlands out of fear,” Agaton Bautista of the Samahang Magbubukid ng Coral ni Lopez (Samacolo), a local organization of farmers in Calaca, Batangas, said in a statement.
A fact-finding mission of the Samahang Magbubukid ng Batangas (SAMBAT), Karapatan-Southern Tagalog and Katipunan ng mga Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK) last July 30-31, revealed that there were residents who have been subjected to harassment and threats since 2002.
Bautista, 44, said soldiers have long been visiting his home, warning him of his supposed involvement with the armed revolutionary movement.
“The presence of soldiers in our community alone is already a form of harassment. They have no right to stay here, especially when we have land issues and our community is peaceful anyway,” Bautista told the fact-finding team, adding that they might be caught in crossfire should there be a firefight between soldiers and NPA fighters.
Farmers belonging to Samacolo said soldiers did not leave their community even when President Duterte announced a ceasefire during his State of the Nation Address. The ceasefire, which the community never felt to have been implemented in the first place, was lifted a few days later, following a clash between NPA fighters and members of a paramilitary group in Davao del Norte.
The FFM reported that not even members of their team were spared when they were conducting an investigation last July 31. Soldiers took photos of the members of the Batangas Integrated Human Rights Advocates, as they were interviewing other soldiers.
Former village official Virgilio Vidal said they were never consulted on the military deployment in their community.
“I believe that soldiers here have no good intention for us. They are here to provide protection to those claiming the lands we till,” Rosa Sigunian, 64, told the fact-finding team.
‘Military victimizes civilians’
Apart from Calaca town, a nationwide peasant group, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said neighboring towns such as Balayan, Calatagan, and Nasugbu are also being subjected to militarization as six army battalions have been deployed there since 2013 and have been launching military operations in agricultural areas where there are land disputes and farmers struggles against land-use conversions.
KMP said they hold the Armed Forces of the Philippines accountable for the military operation that “victimizes civilians, particularly farmers,” said its secretary general Antonio Flores.
Flores said, “We demand AFP chief Ricardo Visaya to order the immediate pullout of troops from farmers’ communities. The threats, harassment and intimidation against farmers must stop.”