Terror reigns in Batangas as soldiers intensify operations against civilians

Protest action by sugar workers opposing the presence of the 59th IBPA in Tuy, Batangas. (Photo courtesy of Bahaghari Batangas)


SAN PABLO CITY, Laguna – Residents in barangay Putol, Tuy, Batangas province fear for their lives as elements of the Philippine Army’s 59th Infantry Battalion entered their community, August 4.

According to local organization Sugarfolks’ Unity for Genuine Agricultural Reform (SUGAR), at least 50 soldiers have encamped in houses within the barangay, forcing residents to evacuate out of fear of retaliation. The group claims that the soldiers are looking for Jaysie Balugna, a resident of barangay Putol and provincial spokesperson for Kaisahan ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Tubuhan (KAISAHAN).

“The 59th IB is openly violating Jaysie’s rights while his family and neighbors are unjustly threatened and put in danger,” the group stated. SUGAR added that the militarization compounded the community’s “existential problem of livelihood” owing to the recent closure of the Central Azucarera de Don Pedro sugar mill (CADPI).

Human rights group Tanggol Batangan stated that elements of the 59th IB entered Brgy. Putol on August 3, around 7 a.m. No less than 30 soldiers zoned the area and accused Balugna of being a member of the revolutionary New People’s Army (NPA). Soldiers also claimed that Balugna’s residents were guilty of “harboring NPA members.”

Tanggol Batangan organized a fact-finding mission with the goal of ascertaining the situation on the ground. However, they were forced to regroup after soldiers disrupted a planned press conference to be held on August 4, 8 a.m. in nearby barangay Dao, also in Tuy.

Around the same time, residents in barangay Putol reported that reinforcements from the 59th IB entered the area to continue the search for Balugna. Soldiers are still encamped in both barangays Putol and Dao as of press time.

The ongoing militarization in Tuy is only the latest in the 59th IB’s “reign of terror in Batangas,” according to Tanggol Batangan. Incident reports from Tanggol Batangan and other rights groups place the 59th IB at the front and center of a series of attacks against civilians and progressives in the province.

Last July 2022, a fact-finding mission from Tanggol Batangan and Karapatan Southern Tagalog revealed that the 59th IB was responsible for the murder of nine-year old Kyllene Casao in Taysan municipality, and of farmer Maximino Digno in Calaca City.

Elements of the 59th IB were also implicated in the disappearance of community organizers Alfred Manalo and Lloyd Descallar and bystander Angelito Balitostos last March 26, 2023. Manalo and Descallar were sugar worker organizers while Balitostos witnessed the incident. Defend Southern Tagalog noted that the 59th IB would “hide the three from their kin and legal counsel until indirectly admitting their supposed arrest from Army press releases.”

The 59th IB is also employing legal means to silence its critics. Tanggol Batangan spokesperson Hailey Pecayo is facing complaints alleging that she is a “high-ranking member of the NPA” and involved in an alleged encounter in Lobo last July 25, 2022. Tanggol Batangan had earlier exposed the supposed incident as a case of indiscriminate firing against residents in Lobo and nearby San Juan meant to “intimidate them from standing up against the planned geothermal plant project in San Juan.”

All in all, Pecayo is facing five complaints for murder, attempted murder, violation of International humanitarian law, and two counts of violating Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

The 59th IB has also filed complaints against Anakbayan Southern Tagalog coordinator Kenneth Rementilla and Mothers and Children for the Protection of Human Rights secretary-general Jasmin Yvette Rubia for violating Section 12 of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The complaint states that Rementilla and Rubia “[provided] material support to the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army” through participating in the July 2022 fact-finding mission, of which Pecayo was also a part.

Karapatan ST has described these complaints as “mere conjecture.” In a statement, the group insisted that “these trumped-up charges and stories are simply ways for the 59th IB to cover up their murder of Kyllene Casao and Maximino Digno.”

Rementilla and Rubia have recently filed their counter-affidavits to debunk the 59th IB’s claims last July 21. Pecayo has also submitted supplementary evidence to dispute claims made against her last August 4, the same day the 59th IB intensified its military presence in Tuy.

Farmers and advocates in Batangas have also raised calls to stop the militarization in Tuy. KAISAHAN recently led a silent protest against the ongoing militarization and the threats against Balugna, while Tanggol Batangan is calling for the immediate pull-out of the 59th IB in the area, asserting that the military “has no place in civilian homes and communities.” (RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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