“Together with our volunteers, member organizations and individuals and other supporters, SUGAR is deeply saddened and agitated by the fact that the institutions which are supposed to protect are the ones perpetrating harassments and human rights abuses against their people. We are not doing anything unlawful, we are just asking for the support of the administration for the local sugar industry and our livelihood.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Rights group Karapatan-Southern Tagalog condemned the reported abduction of two sugarcane farmers and another civilian on March 26, and the military’s refusal to grant families and lawyers access to the three.
Alfredo Manalo and Lloyd Descallar, both sugarcane workers and volunteers of Sugarfolks Unity for Genuine Agricultural Reform (SUGAR) Batangas were reportedly abducted on March 26 in Balayan, Batangas. Upon initial investigation by Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, a 65-year old Angelito Balistostos has also gone missing. He was passing by when he witnessed the abduction.
On April 2, Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, along with other humanitarian groups, conducted a fact-finding mission to locate the three. The group said they received information that the three were being held by the 59th Infantry Battalion at a satellite base in Tuos village, Rosario, Batangas. The humanitarian team, along with lawyers and paralegals, was denied entry to the village where the 59th IB is based.
At first, the 59th IB denied that the three were in their custody. But after a series of negotiations, the 59th IB’s Commander LTC Ernesto Teneza denied the victims’ right to legal counsel.
“Teneza stated that the three victims ‘already have their lawyers’, thus debunking their own aforesaid statement that the victims are not in their custody. The 59th IB also came up with excuses as to why the team was being denied, such as excuses relating to their ‘visiting hours,’ which is also in contrast to their initial denial of the Balayan 3’s custody,” the group said.
In a statement, SUGAR said that soldiers fully-armed with high-caliber rifles took note of the plate numbers of the team’s vehicles. After some time, the team decided to withdraw, as the 59th IB would not grant them access to the Balayan 3.
They also belied claims of the 2nd Infantry Jungle Fighter Division that Manalo is leader of the New People’s Army while the two are also members of the guerilla group.
Manalo and Descallar are both volunteers of SUGAR who were in Balayan to conduct a consultation with sugarcane workers affected by the closure of Central Azucarera Don Pedro Incorporated (CADPI).
SUGAR is an alliance of sugarcane farmers, farm workers, and advocates. They are among the organizations who are campaigning for assistance for 4,584 sugarcane workers affected by the closure of Central Azucarera Don Pedro Incorporated (CADPI).
SUGAR also said that in the past month, the sugarfolk of Batangas have experienced a series of harassment and intimidation by state agents.
The group said that elements of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army, without clear and lawful reasons, have been interrogating members of sugarfolk communities, searching for the whereabouts and identification of SUGAR volunteers and organizers. Policemen and soldiers also identified individuals for P30,000 financial aid per family as promised by House Speaker Martin Romualdez.
“Together with our volunteers, member organizations and individuals and other supporters, SUGAR is deeply saddened and agitated by the fact that the institutions which are supposed to protect are the ones perpetrating harassments and human rights abuses against their people. We are not doing anything unlawful, we are just asking for the support of the administration for the local sugar industry and our livelihood,” the group said.
Karapatan-Southern Tagalog, meanwhile, called the attention of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to help the families of Balayan 3 to surface their loved ones.