Asked when the Commission on Human Rights could join the mission to “validate” the rights violations, lawyer Carmelita Rosete of the CHR’s Field Operation Office said that depends on the schedule of their regional counterpart.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – On Thursday, September 28, Rev. Edwin Egar of human rights group KARAPATAN joined a convoy of rights advocates from Batangas to Camp Aguinaldo and the national office of the Commission on Human Rights. They came from Lobo, Batangas, site of military aerial strikes since September 24. The military justification for the bombing was the alleged firefight with NPA guerillas in the morning of September 24 at the tri-boundary near the resource-rich Lobo, Batangas.
Fr. Egar and the rest of the delegation talked about the urgent need not just to stop the bombing but for the public to hear the villagers’ point of view.
Much of the media reports are coming from the point of view of the military, they said, adding that it is unfair to the villagers now being forced to flee.
The trip to Metro Manila took longer because the delegation’s convoy was delayed by military checkpoints. When they arrived, members of fisherfolk group Pamalakaya had already concluded a picket in front of the Camp Aguinaldo in Edsa. They smeared a part of the camp’s white walls with blood-red paint. They said it is to dramatize the bloody wars against the people being waged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Father Egar’s delegation confirmed that in Batangas, two civilians — a father and a child — had been killed due to the recent aerial strikes.
Also, an alleged member of the New People’s Army reportedly died in an encounter with government soldiers on Sept. 24.
What galvanized the fact-finding mission by Southern Tagalog rights advocates was the conduct of the government troops’ pursuit operations. Fr. Egar told Bulatlat that they received frantic complaints from locals that the military is indiscriminately dropping bombs into communities near the site of the alleged encounter. The locals said the soldiers have been telling them to evacuate or risk being mistaken for NPA guerillas.
Fact-finding team barred by soldiers from entering militarized villages
Since September 24, Fr. Egar said, the fact-finding team has been prevented by soldiers and the police from getting near the site of evacuation camps or the villages affected by aerial bombings.
They received news that the soldiers barred the people from seeing or retrieving the alleged NPA member left to die in the site of the encounter. The soldiers reportedly allowed the SOCO team of the police to retrieve the body only two to three days later.
The barangay center of Cumba near the site of the alleged encounter was occupied by soldiers, the fact-finding mission noted. They said they heard the aerial bombings while they were in Cumba. They observed that its village chief seemed afraid of the soldiers — he had also asked the fact-finding team to leave the barangay.
“You welcomed the armed soldiers and let them stay upstairs, but not us civilians?” the fact-finding team asked the village captain, who then relented and allowed them to spend the night in the barangay’s basketball court.
Later, the fact-finding team saw four heavily armed soldiers go out of the barangay office and station themselves a few meters from them.
“The soldiers occupying the barangay hall is a violation of International Humanitarian Law,” Fr Egar said in a statement.
On September 25, the fact-finding team saw truckloads of soldiers on the way to Cumba village. When the mission returned on September 26, they were barred from entering the village. A kilometer away from the barangay hall the road had a checkpoint manned by barangay tanod. The latter called the barangay captain who arrived only to ask the fact-finding mission to leave.
Meanwhile, reports of bombing and forced evacuation in various villages in Lobo continue to reach the fact-finding mission.
Appeals for CHR help to be forwarded to regional office for ‘validation’
Frustrated at nearly every turn, on September 28, the delegation from the mission drove to Manila to request assistance from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Asked why they did not go to its regional counterparts first, the mission replied that the last time they approached it, they had been met by armed men.
The “frontline” recipients of requests for help directed them to lawyer Carmelita Rosete of the CHR’s Field Operation Office (FOO). They also explained that the CHR only had those armed men “for security.”
Rosete agreed that indeed, bombs don’t discriminate.
Fr. Egar appealed to the CHR saying “We came to you first hoping you’d instruct your counterparts in the region.” He asked the CHR to join their fact-finding mission.
“We are being blocked and prevented from reaching the victims of aerial bombing and evacuation,” Egar told Rosete.
Another member of the fact-finding team told CHR that the locals “can’t understand why there are bombings and threats of arrests.” He said the locals reported that the military targets were not in the civilian communities being bombed.
However, CHR’s Rosete said they could only inform their (Region IV-A) Calabarzon counterpart about the matter. “They have to validate it first.”
When Fr. Egar asked Rosete and the other members of CHR when the CHR could join the fact-finding mission to “validate” the complained of rights violations, Rosete said, that depends on the schedule of their regional counterpart.
To the pleas of members of the fact-finding mission that bombs are being dropped as they talked, schools were suspended and hundreds of families are forcibly being evacuated, the CHR lawyer urged them to just go to their Calabarzon counterpart, and she would call them right away.
Bombings, bakwit Marawi-style?
Reports reaching the fact-finding mission said some 50 families have evacuated from Brgy. Cumba and 87 other families from Brgy. Talahib Pandayan as of September 28. Classes were also suspended in at least 15 schools in the two barangays and nearby areas like Brgy. Payapa, Sto. Domingo, Maruclap, Conde Itaas, Talumpok Proper, Talumpok Silangan at Kanluran, Haligue Silangan at Kanluran at Sto. Niño. Added to these are farmers in Barangay Banalo, Lobo, Batangas.
“We vehemently condemn the indiscriminate attacks conducted by 202nd Infantry Brigade and 730th Combat Group of Philippine Air Force on civilians by conducting bombings and strafing, affecting Barangays Cumba and Talahib Pandayan in Batangas City. Civilians should be spared from these forms of attacks and rights violations.” Rev. Edwin Egar of KARAPATAN-ST said in a statement.
As of Sept. 28, the fact-finding mission noted that the families who evacuated from seven barangays due to bombings and military threats have yet to return home. Environmentalists, meanwhile, expressed fears that the bombings could also be a ruse to rapidly clear the villages of opponents of large-scale mining.