“Instead of providing aid especially to vulnerable communities, the soldiers of the 85th IB are overtly sowing terror through militarization.”
By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – Despite a global coronavirus pandemic, and a declaration by the President of a unilateral ceasefire between government forces and the revolutionary New People’s Army (NPA), rights group Karapatan said soldiers of the 85th Infantry Battalion in Quezon province still find the time to harass local farmers.
Karapatan-Quezon reported that since the March 19 ceasefire declaration, elements of the 85th IB have been involved in multiple incidents of right violations in the municipalities of Lopez, Catanauan, Macalelon, Unisan, Agdangan, Padre Burgos, and Atimonan.
According to the group, the 85th IB was reported to be forcing residents to “admit to being members of the NPA” and “accept the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) offer.”
E-CLIP is a livelihood program being offered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to NPA members and its people’s militias in order to “help them return to the fold of the law and be with their families”.
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines, however, asserted that E-CLIP is a “money-making scheme” by the government, and the money supposedly being given to “rebel returnees” were instead taken by officials in the PNP and the AFP.
Aside from harassment and red-tagging, Karapatan Quezon noted in particular incidents in barangays Malabahay and San Vicente, Macalelon where soldiers ransacked houses while forcing upon them E-CLIP offers, and an incident in Brgy. San Francisco, Lopez where soldiers called on residents from a list to give them offers for E-CLIP.
In a similar incident, Karapatan Southern Tagalog also reported an incident that occurred on March 16 in barangay Olongtao Ibaba, Macalelon where a soldier accused a tricycle driver of bringing supplies to NPA guerrillas, before taking his phone and searching his belongings while pointing a .45 caliber pistol at him. The driver, however, was simply delivering goods he purchased in General Luna. He made a stop-over in Macalelon in order to relieve himself.
Karapatan Quezon condemned these actions, noting that the country is in the middle of “a global crisis brought about by COVID-19”. The group stated that these incidents were proof that “the army was failing to live up to its sworn duty to ‘serve and protect the Filipino people.’”
Jennelyn Dichoso, Karapatan Quezon secretary general, said, “Instead of providing aid especially to vulnerable communities, the soldiers of the 85th IB are overtly sowing terror through militarization.”
The entire province of Quezon is still under lockdown until April 12. As of press time there are four confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province, and 136 persons under investigation.