De facto martial law terrorizes civilians in Negros, Bicol, Eastern Visayas

Farmers from Samar and Leyte travel to Manila to demand the repeal of memorandum order no. 32. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan/ Bulatlat)


In other parts of Samar and Leyte, and in the provinces of Bicol and Negros island, farmers like Pajares find themselves targets of the military’s counterinsurgency operations. The three areas were cited in President Duterte’s Memorandum Order No. 32, issued exactly a year ago, and which purportedly aims to quell “lawless violence.”


MANILA – About 150 soldiers went to the house of Roberto Pajares last April 1 in barangay Roxas, Lope de Vega, Northern Samar. These soldiers belonging to the Philippine Army’s 43rd Infantry Battalion led by a certain Lt. Marasigan ordered Pajares to surrender.

The 59-year-old farmer was shocked. “Why should I surrender? I did not do anything wrong,” Pajares told Bulatlat in an interview.

The soldiers insisted Pajares was the commander of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the area. He denied the accusation, saying he is just a farmer planting palay, root crops and banana.

Last Sept. 20 (or more than five months after), the soldiers came back, this time with local village officials. Pajares was told he has been declared persona non grata. He was told to leave his wife’s hometown immediately. Fearing for their safety, Pajares, his wife, six children and one grandchild left and migrated to his own hometown in nearby Las Navas.

The same problem hounded him in Las Navas, however, as soldiers have also encamped at the center of their community.

In other parts of Samar and Leyte, and in the provinces of Bicol and Negros island, farmers like Pajares find themselves targets of the military’s counterinsurgency operations. The three areas were cited in President Duterte’s Memorandum Order No. 32, issued exactly a year ago, and which purportedly aims to quell “lawless violence.”

Nine battalions under three brigades are now operating in Eastern Visayas. Five battalions were deployed in Negros island. Three battalions and Special Action Forces were deployed in the Bicol region.

Instead of quelling lawless violence, the deployment of more troops in these provinces sowed terror. In barangay Capoto-an, Las Navas, soldiers of the 20th Infantry Battalion dropped three bombs right in the center of the village at around 5 a.m. last Oct. 26, according to a factsheet prepared by human rights group Katungod-Sinirangang Bisaya. Strafing of houses followed suit and minutes later, soldiers barged into the homes of farmers.

In one of the accounts, soldiers went inside the house of Nerissa (real name withheld for security) and destroyed clothes, sleeping mat, farm tools such as bolo and even kitchen utensils. Soldiers also took her husband’s money amounting to P9,000. Nerissa’s family and 23 other families fled after the incident.

The elementary school stopped operations since then. Students and even teachers were traumatized by the bombings, according to Baby Senobio, leader of Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA). Senobio told Bulatlat classes have not yet resumed.

Like Pajares, Senobio has also been declared persona non grata (unacceptable) by the Municipal Peace and Order Council. Before this, Senobio and her organization NSSFA have been tagged as communists by the Army’s 20th Infantry Battalion in its Facebook page.

The practice of declaring NPA and perceived communist supporters as persona non grata has become common. In Bicol the NPA has been declared persona non grata in 209 villages. In Eastern Visayas, 123 local government units issued the same declaration. The Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental provincial governments also issued similar resolutions.

The Regional Task Forces to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict, the counterparts of the national task force, are behind the moves. Like Memorandum Order No. 32, the creation of such task forces has been mandated by Duterte’s Executive Order no. 70. 

In a report, Marco Valbuena, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) public information officer, said that “the majority of the officials signed the declaration out of fear of military reprisal.” The CPP has laughed off the tag, saying that despite the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ propaganda drive, “the NPA continues to enjoy the deep and wide support of the people in myriad forms.”

However, civilians like Pajares and Senobio ended up included in the government’s lists. The red tagging has resulted in extra-judicial killings and other forms of human rights violations.

Baby Senobio joins a protest action in Manila demanding the pullout of militarity troops from their communities. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan/ Bulatlat)

Since the issuance Memorandum Order No. 32, Katungod-Sinirangang Bisaya documented 27 victims of extra-judicial killings, most of them farmers. In Bicol, the regional chapter of Karapatan documented 10 cases of killings. Negros was even worse, with 45 civilians gunned down in just one year.

At least 62 civilians were also arrested and charged with trumped-up charges from Nov. 23, 2018 to Nov. 22, 2019, according to human rights group Karapatan.

Faking it

Besides the killings and arrests, the phenomenon of fake surrenders is also notable in areas covered by Memorandum Order No. 32.

Rey Alburo of Karapatan-Negros recalled the incident last Aug. 30 in Escalante City where 7,000 farmers were falsely presented to the media as rebel returnees. “The farmers were invited by their respective barangay chairpersons to attend a livelihood program launch. They had no idea they were to be introduced as NPAs returning to the fold,” Alburo told Bulatlat in Filipino.

Alburo said the farmers were made to sign documents stating they were former rebels in exchange for P5,000, two kilos of rice, two cans of sardines and two packs of instant noodles. According to the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), each rebel returnee should receive P50,000 in livelihood assistance and P15,000 immediate assistance.

In barangay San Miguel, Las Navas, Northern Samar, farmers accused of being communist supporters were ordered to present themselves at the military camp. Alex Abinguna of Katungod-SB said the soldiers were using psywar tactics, telling the farmers that their neighbors tipped them off. “They were being forced to admit they were NPA,” Abinguna said.

In Bicol, Karapatan’s local chapter documented an incident of bombing and strafing last Aug. 14 in barangay Lidong, Caramoan on the pretext of a “fake encounter.” The Army’s 83rd Infantry Battalion and the Philippine Air Force under 9th Infantry Division launched an-hour long airstrike, claiming there were NPA guerrillas in the area. The National Democratic Front-Bicol issued a statement refuting the military’s claims.

Nida Barcenas, secretary general of Karapatan-Bicol, told Bulatlat that more than 100 individuals fled after the incident.


Barcenas, a long-time human rights defender, said the Duterte administration’s counterinsurgency policy is no different from previous ones and is likely to fail too.

“They are not winning the hearts and minds of the people,” Barcenas said, referring to the military. “The more they harass civilians, the more they are hated by the locals.”

Farmers like Pajares and Senobio want the military out of their communities.

Meanwhile, the CPP, labeled Duterte and his military as cowards.

“Unable to hit against the NPA, Duterte’s armed minions have directed his wrath against civilians who the AFP have red-tagged and accused of being sympathizers of the NPA,” the CPP said. (

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