DEVELOPING STORY: 30 farmers from Barangay San Miguel, Las Navas, Northern Samar were withheld from leaving their village after elements of the 20thInfantry Battalion formed a gridlock in a bid to monitor the movement of rebel groups around the municipality.
The farmers were on their way to a dialogue between the Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA), the Samahan han Gudti nga Paraguma Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA-SB) and the Local Government Unit of Las Navas represented by Mayor Minda Tan.
Among their agenda was the immediate withdrawal of combatant troops and other military personnel from their village after the 20thIB announced in early October plans to camp-out in various barangays in the municipalities of Las Navas and Catubig, NSSFA told Eastern Vista.
The surge in military personnel came right after President Rodrigo Duterte spoke before the 803rd Infantry Brigade in Catarman, Northern Samar last October 2. Duterte pressed the military to “neutralize all suspected rebels” in the province, blanket statements which NSSFA condemned as the basis used for the AFP to militarize farming communities indiscriminately.
Today, the concentration of military troops has been identified in barangay San Miguel, San Francisco and Quirino of Las Navas. 8 cases of extra-judicial killings in Eastern Visayas have also been documented in Northern Samar alone.
Meanwhile, the encampment also violated a recently passed barangay resolution by the barangay council of San Francisco. Local officials in the council chided the military for striking fear among civilians in supposed “zones of peace” such as public schools.
Earlier in 2017, DepEd secretary Leonor Briones signed Department Order No. 57 which superseded former DepEd policies allowing the military to camp-out inside school facilities.
SAGUPA meanwhile condemned the spike in violations of international humanitarian law as the “principal reason for poverty and hunger in the province”, citing that soldiers in the area were known for dispatching their columns to nearby farmlands in order to discourage the mobility of farmers.
“How can farmers be expected to work if their fields are transformed into war zones?” said Jun Berino, secretary general of SAGUPA-SB. Berino called on government officials to order the halt of military operations in the province, saying their presence has caused the onslaught of peasant-related killings and successive cases of threats, harassments and intimidation directed towards innocent civilians.
Earlier in February, a delegation of farmers from Eastern Visayas marched to the Commission on Human Rights national office in Quezon City to file numerous cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the 20thand 43rdInfantry Battalion, the cases were later on dismissed by the Commission as lacking evidence. But NSSFA also decried the lack of any “serious investigation” over the state of human rights in the war-torn province.