HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Island in Agony
reports 2 rights violations every day
This is one of those
cases when cold figures can heat one up. From February to May alone, a
total of 276 cases of human rights violations were recorded in Samar,
involving the controversial Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan and his men. This
means 76 cases per month, 17 per week or two every day.
By Maureen Japzon
TERROR AND DEFIANCE: In Samar
tattoos are now prohibited by the military, so some of the tattooed
residents take it upon themselves to remove their tattoos rather than have
the military burn these off reportedly with flat irons; at right,
residents welcome the IFSM delegates.
PHOTOS BY MAUREEN JAPZON
– Despite the presence of soldiers, some of whom even disguised themselves
in civilian clothes, the peasant communities in Paranas, Motiong and
Catbalogan, all in the Samar
province, welcomed the members of a church-based fact-finding mission and
shared their ordeals with them.
Movement for Justice and Peace came to Samar, an island in central
Philippines, due to increasing reports of human rights abuses allegedly
perpetrated by soldiers under the army’s 8th Infantry Division headed by
Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan.
Dubbed as “Interfaith
Solidarity Mission” (IFSM), the group provided relief and medical services
as well as interviewed victims and witnesses of human rights abuses in
Paranas, Motiong and Catbalogan from June 6 to 9.
Samar in anguish
At the end of the mission, the IFSM issued a statement, describing the
number of human rights violations in the entire Eastern Visayas,
particular in Samar, as “very alarming.”
In three months, according to the mission, the number of violations had
surpassed the number of cases rights groups and the Commission on Human
Rights (CHR) had recorded for 2004. From February 10 to May 30, 276 cases
have been reported, aside from violations of international humanitarian
covenants like the Geneva Convention.
Within the period,
there were 76 cases recorded each month, more than 17 per week and more
than two cases per day.
In just three municipalities, the mission documented 77 incidents,
including cases of harassment, enforced disappearances, arbitrary
detention, illegal search and seizure, violation of domicile, physical
assault, torture and summary execution.
Fr. Calvin Bugho, OFM, one of the IFSM convenors, revealed during the
post-mission press conference in Catbalogan that the documented cases were
just the “tip of the iceberg." He also said that a lot more cases have to
be verified because many residents fear to speak out due to the "climate
of fear" prevailing in the area.
On the other hand, Dr. Oliver Jimenez, leader of the mission’s medical
team, said, "There can never be a healthy people in Paranas and Motiong
and in so many other communities under the environment of terror and
fear…the medical mission of the IFSM had proved many things: first, the
militaritazation is happening in Samar province and in Eastern Visayas;
second, many human rights violations happening in many forms is being
employed and the poor farmers in rural areas are still wallowing in
poverty and deprivation."
The team examined 218
patients from Paranas and 57 patients from Motiong. Among the illnesses
diagnosed were skin diseases, eye problems, ulcers and cardio vascular
problems which, according to the medics, reflect the economic situation in
the areas visited.
A total of 461
families from seven villages in Paranas and four families in Catbalogan
received relief packs.
According to Rev. Danilo delos Santos, United Church of Christ of the
Philippines (UCCP) North Leyte Conference and IFSM spokesperson, some
villagers even cried upon seeing the mission delegates.
“The IFSM has given them a flicker of hope amidst the inaction
and utter disregard by several of those who have committed themselves to
public service," he said.
In the hinterland village of Sto.
Niño, Paranas, the mission said 40 percent of the total household
population had evacuated in the area, leaving farms and other property
behind for fear of military threats and abuses.
Its barangay (village) chairman, Edgar Fabillar, said his constituents
fled to Metro Manila and other barangays. Many had failed to harvest and
plant rice while many carabaos (water buffalo, used mainly for tilling
land) were sold at very low prices, together with other domesticated
animals and valuables just to have cash for their “escape.”
As of this writing, one of Fabillar’s constituents is still missing. He
suspects it was due to military abduction and forced servitude as guide in
military operations. The family of this victim had already sought help
from military authority, but to no avail. The four siblings of the victim
are looking for their parent and are suffering from the state of fear.
reportedly received threats for airing his grievances to the local media.
Another village chief, this time from an upland barrio in Paranas, was
beaten and tortured by soldiers in front of their officer, a Lt. Manuel.
The victim, requesting that his name be withheld, said in an interview
with Bulatlat that he was tortured for almost a day while
blindfolded and handcuffed at Manuel’s office in Paranas. He said the
soldiers wanted him to admit to being a Bayan Muna (people first) member.
He was only released after saying he was the barangay chapter head of the
The victim said he knew Bayan Muna is a legal organization but did not
immediately admit his involvement in the group since the investigators
said it was a “front” of New Peoples Army (NPA).
The same fate happened to the barangay chairman’s companion who also told
Bulatlat that he was twice abducted and tortured by military men
along with several others from Paranas’ different barangays. The first
abduction lasted for 19 days. He was brought to an alleged AFP safehouse
in Canlapwas, Catbalogan City, and tortured.
Meanwhile, two barangay councilors from the same area had fled because of
fear. Now only a few families sleep in the barrio proper, the majority
preferring to stay in their farmhouses at night to avoid the military
The villagers interviewed by the mission members said bonnet-clad military
men armed with high-powered rifles are the perpetrators of the different
It was evident that local government officials have been stripped of their
authority to govern, said the mission statement.
would get shouted upon by these unidentified armed men claiming that ‘they
only respect and implement orders from the general’; and insist that they
must be informed and/or consulted on practically all matters concerning
the community,” it said.
“In essence and in
form, it is martial law at its worst not only in these places that the
IFSM visited but expectedly in every community in Samar that the AFP has
marked for obliteration.”
The initiators and participants of the mission included the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Calbayog, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), UCCP,
Franciscan Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office- Philippines (OFM-
JPIC), Inter-faith Movement for Justice and Peace and Kalinaw- Sentral
More than 150 delegates from Cebu, Bohol, Metro Manila and religious men
and women in Eastern Visayas joined. Bulatlat
PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION ■
© 2004 Bulatlat
Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided
its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.