By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan denounced recent reports of human rights violations in various parts of the country.
In a statement, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay called it a “disturbing pattern of extrajudicial killings, arrest and harassment” committed by the Philippine military and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Palabay cited the reported killing of a farmer couple in Negros Occidental on Oct. 17. Citing reports, Palabay said the couple, Christian Job and Mylene Salgado Vargas, were harvesting bananas when they were chanced upon by the soldiers from the 79th Infantry Battalion in barangay Canlusong, EB Magalona, Negros Occidental.
The 79th Infantry Battalion claimed that the couple were members of the New People’s Army.
However, the mother of Christian, Jocelyn, denied this allegation. She said that they were simple farmers who were harvesting bananas and lanzones for them to sell when the incident happened. She related that a few hours after the couple left, they heard gunshots. Worried, they attempted to check on the couple but soldiers stopped them from proceeding to the place of the incident.
“In what is becoming a gruesome pattern of lies the 79th IBPA later reported the incident as an armed encounter between the Philippine Army and the NPA, an allegation vehemently denied by Jocelyn Vargas, the mother of the male victim, Christian Job,” Palabay said.
Prior to the killing of the couple, Palabay said another farmer in Abra was also gunned down by soldiers claiming that it was an “encounter.”
The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) identified the victim as Antonio Diwayan Agliwan, 57, a swidden farmer and a long-time resident of sitio Talipugo, barangay Buneg, Lacub, Abra.
“Local residents and Agliwan’s family have denounced statements by the 5th Infantry Division in its Facebook page that Agliwan had been killed in a firefight between the NPA and the 77th IBPA. They averred that Agliwan was a civilian who had been tending the family farm for years near a forested area of barangay Buneg, raising various crops, livestock and chickens,” Palabay said.
Almccording to CHRA, given the series of military operations in the area, Barangay Captain Manolo Sabadao, the village chief of barangay Buneg, provided Agliwan a certification last year as a protective measure. The certification was given to prove to the soldiers that Agliwan is a civilian.
Arrest and harassment
Karapatan also received reports about the arrest of peasant organizer and environmental activist Reymart Moneda of the Bigkis at Lakas ng mga Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan on Oct. 16 barangay Magsaysay, Infanta, Quezon, where the construction of the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam project is ongoing.
Karapatan-Southern Tagalog said that at present, Moneda is being detained at the Infanta Municipal Police Station. The group said Moneda was first abducted by the 1st Infantry Battalion and the Second Infantry Brigade on Oct. 16 and was turned over to the Infanta Municipal Police Station on Oct. 17.
The group also decried the harassment and red-tagging of development workers affiliated with a Southern Negros Occidental-based non-government organization, the Paghidaet sa Kauswagan Development Group, Inc. (PDG).
Palabay said the PDG is a local development NGO with a record of more than 30 years of providing livelihood assistance and human rights training to its farmer and fisherfolk constituents. “It is now one of the latest targets of red-tagging by the NTF-ELCAC. Its personnel have been repeatedly harassed and coerced since August to disaffiliate from the PDG and falsely claim that it is an NPA supporter.”
In a report by Negros-based alternative media Paghimutad, members of the PDG said that in the past months, “military personnel have repeatedly visited their communities, spreading allegations that PDG is a recruiter and supporter of the NPA.” This was vehemently denied by the PDG.
Perla Jaleco-Pabillar, an organizer of the PDG in Cauayan, South Negros also said that soldiers have been persuading her to stop her work and that she is allegedly in a “shoot-to-kill order list” by the Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office. She also received threats through text messages.
“The NTF-ELCAC knows no bounds when it comes to such shenanigans,” Palabay said.
“According to reports from Gabriela-Tondo, it is even interfering with the ongoing barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan election campaigns in the impoverished Manila district by red-tagging three candidates and an incumbent official of Barangay 101 who are known for their pro-people advocacies,” Palabay added.
Palabay said several barangays in Tondo are currently the site of civil-military operations by the Philippine Army, where identified leaders and activists of progressive organizations are red-tagged, threatened and harassed.
Amid all these, Palabay said that Karapatan and the rest of the human rights community will not stop in its efforts to expose and oppose the brutal extrajudicial killings and the threats and red-tagging that increasingly target not only activists and other human rights defenders but ordinary civilians.