“The NTF-ELCAC and its local counterparts have been resorting to forced surrenders in violation of the rights of civilians under international humanitarian law, and to make it appear that they are winning the counterinsurgency war, even if such bogus activities do nothing about addressing the roots of the armed conflict.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Human rights watchdog Karapatan called on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the recent incidents of rights violations in the communities of Rizal and Kalinga province.
A rights group in Kalinga reported indiscriminate bombings in the communities of Balbalan, Kalinga on March 5 and 9. Meanwhile, Karapatan-Rizal reported the forced surrender of local residents of 1k2 Kasiglahan Village in Rodriguez, Rizal.
According to Karapatan, close to 400 local residents “were deceived and coerced into signing a surrender form by elements of the 80th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.”
Reports received from Karapatan-Rizal and Citizens Rights Watch Network, revealed that residents of Kasiglahan village were called by the village officials on March 12 to gather at the Ynares Multi-Purpose Building for the government’s supposed free housing program.
When they were already at the area, a document was passed around stating that they were members of the New People’s Army surrendering to the government.
The residents were forced to sign the document with a heading, Katunayan ng Pagkakaisa or Proof of Unity bearing the words “dating sumusuporta sa CPP-NPA-NDF” (former supporters of CPP-NPA-NDF) and “hindi kailanman sumuporta, susuporta sa CPP-NPA-NDF” (will never or never supported CPP-NPA-NDF) and attended the mass oath-taking/mass surrender ceremony conducted by the Municipal Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (MTF-ELCAC).
In a statement, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said that with the rampant red-tagging and the dangers it poses, they fear for the safety and security of those who signed the document.
In particular, Palabay cited the killing of Mark Lee Bacasno and Melvin Dasigao, two members of local mass organization SIKKAD-K3 who were red-tagged before they were killed on March 7, 2021, referred to as the Bloody Sunday incident.
Based on the report of Pinoy Media Center, soldiers also promised the residents that their houses will be awarded to them, they will have electricity and water supply and that the soldiers will leave the community.
In the same report, Raquel Ortilla, a resident of Kasiglahan, pleaded that the government pay attention to their current situation.
“What is the reason why there are military personnel in our community? We really hope that we can live back to our normal lives. Where there is freedom, we don’t live in fear and there are no soldiers ordering us around,” she said in Filipino.
Palabay said that the NTF-ELCAC and its local counterparts have been resorting to forced surrenders in violation of the rights of civilians under international humanitarian law, “and to make it appear that they are winning the counterinsurgency war, even if such bogus activities do nothing about addressing the roots of the armed conflict.”
Palabay, meanwhile, expressed their concern over the safety of civilians in Balbalan, Kalinga. She stressed that the Philippine government is a signatory to several international humanitarian law protocols that guarantees the safety and security of civilians in the conduct of the counterinsurgency war.
“And yet, according to local residents, the gunfire and bombings are too close to civilian residences,” Palabay added.
Peasant women’s group Amihan also criticized the bombing of communities in Kalinga and also called on the CHR to investigate the incident and push for the halting of military operations in the area.
“This kind of military operation is a clear violation of the farmers rights as this affects their everyday lives, especially their livelihood. Instead of helping to resolve the heightening crisis, it only further pushes the farmers and their families to poverty,” said Amihan Chairperson Zenaida Soriano in a statement.
According to Amihan, Balbalan is set to be the site of the proposed 49-megawatts Saltan D and the 40-MW Mabaca hydroelectric power plant (HEPP). Both of these projects are strongly opposed by the residents.
The proposed Saltan D dam will affect the Salogsog tribe while Mabaca HEPP is within the lands of Mabaca and Buaya tribes. The free prior and informed consent for the Saltan D project has been rejected by the communities in September 2022, Soriano said.
She added that based on the farmers’ experiences, militarization in communities is one way to push for these kinds of development projects even if the community opposes it.
With the Charter Change being railroaded in Congress, Soriano said “these land grabbing through development aggression will worsen “because this will allow the 100 percent ownership of land and natural resources by foreigners.”
Amihan reiterated that “military operations did nothing to address the roots of the armed conflict but only paved the way for greater violence and destruction, as seen through numerous cases of abuse the soldiers bring upon peasant communities.”