TACLOBAN CITY – Farmers group Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA-SB) raised alarm over the Philippine Army’s deployment of its newly-commissioned battalion to the province of Leyte, with the group raising deep concern over the military’s “gruesome past” in the province marred by a “bloody record of massacres of innocent farmers and civilians”.
Earlier today, farmers who joined a Manila caravan from three Samar provinces, had stormed the Gate 2 of Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City – the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines – to protest recent cases of violations of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in Eastern Visayas provinces, including Leyte.
Last year, independent human rights group Katungod disclosed that alarming reports involving different military units under the command of the Army’s 802nd Infantry Brigade in Ormoc City, Leyte, indicate “a new wave of systemic human rights violations (HRVs)”, echoing parallel concerns raised by farmers group since the government had unilaterally terminated peace negotiations with revolutionary forces last year.
Among these cases is the shooting of 33-year old farmer Jason Montalla, a member of the Mag-uuma nga Nagkahiusa (MANA) and resident of Brgy. Calinlin in Albuera, Leyte. Katungod said that before Montalla had died while in hospitalization, the victim had his complaint documented several months earlier. Montalla’s testimony described a previous threat from a person he identified as element of the 78th Infantry Battalion.
“Montalla was tagged as a supporter of the New People’s Army consequently after an encounter between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and NPA took place in Albuera, Leyte last February 10 . A certain “Pepito” of the 78th Infantry Battalion went to his house to threaten Montalla, citing that he was seen during the occurrence of the encounter,” SAGUPA said in its September 2017 statement.
Meanwhile, in a statement, Berino says that farmers in Eastern Visayas are continually “attacked not only by the neoliberal economic policies but also by an intensifying militarization in the region.”
“The Community Support Programs (CSP) and Peace and Development Teams (PDT) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines under the framework of the counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan did not bring peace to our folks in the countrysides but a threat to their lives,” he added.
“Since March 2017 up to the present, there have already been four mass evacuations due to the escalating number of human rights violations in four different towns (Lope de Vega in Northern Samar, Calbiga, and Matuguinao in the province of Samar and Burauen in Leyte). It can be noted that the Philippine Army in Eastern Visayas launched “offensives” against the very people it ought to protect by the time that the peace process between the NDFP and GRP was starting to fail.”
‘Bantay Kapayapaan’ to unleash war
The newly-commissioned 93rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA), branded “Bantay Kapayapaan”, was activated with 128 new combat forces combined with old troopers pooled from different battalions under the 8th Infantry Division (ID).
The 93rd IBPA, headed by Lt. Col. Hilarion Pulma, is part of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to augment the Army with 10 more battalions.
Before being deployed to Leyte, the 93rd IBPA – according to its previous media statements – was supposed to be deployed to any of the three provinces in Samar. Other reports indicate that the said Army unit was supposed to be deployed for Negros island. Other battalions, meanwhile, have been already deployed to different parts of Mindanao.
In a local TV station’s interview with 8th IDPA Commanding Officer Major General Raul M. Farnacio last February 28, the Army official said that on February 16, a company of the 87th IBPA headquartered in Calbiga, Samar, was also deployed to Leyte ahead of the new battalion’s transfer to the “multi-boundary of Burauen, Albuera, Kananga, Ormoc and Baybay” at anytime within the 2nd or 3rd week of March.
For several years, rights advocates are still calling for justice to victims of the April 2003 Kananga 9 massacre, the November 2010 Kananga 3 massacre, with deaths including renowned UP botanist and university professor Leonard Co, and the massacre of farmers in Palo, Leyte with eight casualties including a pregnant woman and her unborn baby.
The creation of new “Duterte” battalions comes in a package with increasing commitments from the United States for logistics and arms support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Progressive groups said that the Duterte government’s termination of peace talks coincided with the open support given to the US’ Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines, described as open-ended mission aimed at countering so-called “radicalization and violent extremism” in the Philippines and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Furthermore, critics had slammed Duterte for fully subscribing to US “propaganda lies and wars of suppression against the people”.
Both SAGUPA-SB and Katungod slammed Duterte’s militarist campaigns which targeted legal dissenters, rights advocates, civil libertarians and ordinary civilians. SAGUPA-SB also suspects the deployment is also intended to secure interests of big landowners in Leyte where big haciendas in the region are located. Farmers have launched campaigns calling for genuine land reform and subsidies especially to small farmers.#