SF CHRP (San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines) is a San Francisco based human rights advocacy group. Latest news and views on human rights in the Philippines.
Janess Ann J. Ellao, for Bulatlat, highlights the de facto martial law that has hit hard the region of Bicol in the Philippines:
Before Felix Paz, 81, became a peasant leader in the Bicol region, he was a farmer himself. Having his own share of hard work in the fields during his days as a farmer, Paz told Bulatlat.com, life is harder for farmers now because – they do not just worry about making a living. Their rights are violated by no less than the government itself.
Paz was among the supporters of farmers from communities in Guinobatan, Albay who held a protest action last Feb. 25. Though it coincided with the commemoration of the first EDSA uprising in 1986, their protest was far from celebrating the supposed restoration of democracy in the country.
Peasants from Bicol region held simultaneous protest actions in Guinobatan, Albay, Bato, Camarines Sur and in Barcelona, Sorsogon against the continuing militarization in their respective communities.
“We are united in fighting for our basic rights,” Vince Casilihan of Karaptan – Bicol, said.
Under President Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, a counterinsurgency program patterned after the U.S. Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009, the human rights group said, nothing much has changed.
The human rights group documented 86 cases of human rights violations from July 2010 to December 2012. These include harassment, killings, torture, physical assault, surveillance, use of schools and other public facilities for military purposes, among others.
Various towns of Guinobatan, Albay, such as Batbat, Cabaluaon, Onggo, Pood, Balite, Palanas, Sinungtan. Bololo, Malipo, Malobago and Doña Mercedes, were among the pilot areas of Oplan Bayanihan.
“(One common occurrence) is the interrogation of residents, who, soldiers claim, are supporters of the New People’s Army. Ordinary peasants and workers who are living in rural communities need not become victims of these human rights violations,” Casilihan said.
In Sinungtan, Severito Ortecio was invited to the village hall by the military on Aug. 4, 2011. He was interrogated by soldiers and tagged as a supporter of the New People’s Army, Karapatan – Bicol said in its report. According to soldiers, Ortecio is an active members of the “Milisyang Bayan,” whose name purportedly appeared on a list they got from the rebel group.
He was forced to sign a blank paper to supposedly “clear” his name but he refused. As a result, the military wanted him to go to their barracks everyday to sign in their logbook.
His neighbors Salvador Oyardo and Rudy Rosales were also invited by the military to go to the village hall on Aug. 16, 2011 on two separate instances. They, too, were interrogated and were forced to admit that they are supporters of the New People’s Army and that they regularly attend the meetings the rebel group held.
“(Oyardo) was also threatened that if he would not admit it, something bad would happen to him and to his family,” the report read. Soldiers then took Oyardo’s photo, with him on it holding a placard that read “GMP.” He was also asked to sign and put his thumbmark on a blank paper.
“Peasants could no longer go out of their villages. They have to ask the permission of the military and sign in their logbooks. They now see soldiers as their landlords,” Casilihan said.
Karapatan-Bicol, in its report, said they also tried to reach out to locals of the village of Cotmon, also in Bato, but the villagers were afraid to talk to them. Again, they cited fear from soldiers who are also deployed in their community.
Here, soldiers, too, used their village hall, which is surrounded by homes belonging to locals, for military purposes. According to a village official, they allowed the military because “they were not using it.”
Locals, too, have been summoned in village halls by soldiers, where they were reportedly interrogated and tagged as supporters of the New People’s Army, Karapatan-Bicol said. There were 15 and 20 documented cases of interrogation in the village of Sooc and Payak, respectively.
Even village officials, themselves, were not spared from interrogation. Kagawad Roland Reyes was summoned four times by soldiers deployed in Buluang since the troops were deployed there last Oct. 9, 2012. Another local, Jessie Talagtag, was also invited to go to the military barrack and was tagged as a supporter of the New People’s Army.
Militarization, according to peasant leader Paz, is endangering livelihoods of farmers and farm workers, who are also facing cases of displacements from land owners.
These farmers, he said, earn mainly from planting rice and coconuts. “According to our study, they earn roughly $2.25 a day,” Paz said, “There were cases that peasants left the community and the land they are tilling because they were afraid of the harassments they were getting from the military.”
Paz said he got several reports that when a peasant is seen doing work in the fields, “a soldier would go to him and interrogate him if he saw a member of the New People’s Army in the area. If they respond that they have not seen any, the soldiers hurt them.”
Aside from calling to put an end to militarization, activists from the Bicol Region also remembered those who have died under the government’s Oplan Bayanihan, and lamented that justice remains elusive.
Last Feb. 25 was the first year since the killing of the Mancera family – Benjamin and sons Michael and Richard. The military claimed that it was a legitimate encounter and that Benjamin was a New People’s Army fighter. But Karapatan-Camarines Norte and Karapatan-Bicol concluded after its three-day fact finding mission that the incident was a massacre.
“Oplan Bayanihan here in the Bicol Region is violent, bloody, inhumane and deadliest in the history of our region. It is bloody because only under Aquino, 37 individuals have become victims of extrajudicial killings. Children, mothers and even village officials, too, are not spared,” Casilihan said, “Even those who are not members of progressive groups are falling victims to human rights violations.”
As for 81-year-old Paz, his only hope is for militarization to be lifted in their communities. “Life would be more productive if there is no militarization. They do not have to be afraid anymore.”