Since March 2019, the 85th IBPA has been involved in human rights violations against coconut farmers in Quezon. Farmers in Macalelon and Lopez towns have been forced to evacuate due to continuing harassment and accusations of being supporters of the New People’s Army.
By JUSTIN UMALI
MANILA – Two farmers have been reported missing since February 3 and are suspected to have been abducted by elements of the Philippine Army’s 85th Infantry Battalion, reports human rights group Karapatan Southern Tagalog.
John Ardy Cacao and Jason Calusin are coconut farmers and volunteer-organizers for Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM) Quezon. They were last seen in barangay Cagsiay 3, Mauban, Quezon.
According to Karapatan ST, Cacao’s family sought help from the group on February 13. As of press time, a fact-finding mission is underway to help locate the two.
“All of the offices were unwilling to divulge any information or incident report,” a statement from Karapatan ST read. The group inquired at local government units, police, and military, including the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) but got no answers.
The rights group condemned the military’s action, calling it “deliberate frustration” with the aim of “masking their guilt.”
Karapatan ST has noted that the circumstances of Candor and Calusin’s disappearance are “nothing new”, and that the Armed Forces of the Philippines has “perfected the art of harassment against farmers and organizers who are fighting for their democratic rights”.
Farmers in Quezon have long been targets of harassment and red-tagging from elements of the AFP.
Since March 2019, the 85th IBPA has been involved in human rights violations against coconut farmers in Quezon. Farmers in Macalelon and Lopez have been forced to evacuate due to continuing harassment and accusations of being supporters of the New People’s Army.
Aside from militarization, coconut farmers have also been the victims of systemic corruption and “legalized theft” under the coco levy fund. The Marcos-era tax, which promised development to the coconut industry and is now estimated to be worth anywhere from P100 to P150 billion, was used to invest and enrich Marcos cronies Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco and Juan Ponce Enrile.
Until now, farmers and organizations like CLAIM Quezon are clamoring for the funds to be returned to the farmers. The Duterte administration has sought to pass a coco levy trust fund law after vetoing it, but this will “not guarantee the return of the multi-billion coco levy fund and assets to farmers,” according to Chairperson Emeritus of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and former agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano.
The proposed trust fund law will create a committee composed of six representatives from the government, two representatives from the private sector, and only three farmer-representatives. The proposed committee will only allow “Duterte and his allies [to] gain control of the fund,” said Mariano.
Karapatan ST is calling for the immediate surfacing of Cacao and Calunin.
Karapatan ST also called Solcom Chief Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. out, stating that he has done nothing but “sow terror and disinformation all over Southern Luzon.”
Parlade was appointed Solcom chief on January 17. Karapatan ST has since then reported the deaths of three peasant organizers – Emerito Pinza, Romy Candor, and Jay-ar Mercado.
Pinza and Candor were killed on January 19 in Kalayaan, Laguna, before being buried under false names in Calamba. Mercado was killed on January 25 in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro before being buried in an unmarked grave.
In both cases, state agents were involved.
“The Filipino people remain vigilant against all abuses made by this tyrannical regime and its lapdogs like Parlade,” the group said in a statement.