Communities in several towns of Northern Samar especially in Catubig and Las Navas experience intense militarization following President Duterte’s visit in Camp Juan Ponce Sumuroy (CJPS), Catarman, Northern Samar last October 2. In his speech, President Duterte mandated his military forces to neutralize members of the New People’s Army and gave an outright permit to arrest them even without warrant.
Immediately after the president’s talk at the province, state forces went to several barrios of Catubig and Las Navas to announce that they will be camping for three to five years inside their villages as reported by human rights group Katungod Eastern Visayas.
Last October 8, the human rights group reported that the 20th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army (IBPA) started camping in the dancing halls and churches of the San Francisco, Imelda, Quirino and San Miguel villages in Las Navas town and two other villages in Catubig since the day President Duterte went to Catarman, Northern Samar.
Farmers sought assistance in CHR
Peasant group Northern Samar Small Farmers Association filed a complaint to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regional office against the 20th Infantry Battalion who, according to them, has been hampering them from doing their daily chores.
The Northern Samar farmers also seek for a dialogue with the AFP on the military’s community encampments which is a violation in the International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Yesterday, October 18, NSSFA forwarded their petition to the Las Navas government unit calling for the immediate pullout of military troops from their communities.
Simultaneously, thirty farmers in Brgy. San Miguel, Las Navas who were supposed to attend the petition filing were blocked by elements of the 20th IBPA who formed a gridlock in the objective of monitoring members of the red-armed group New People’s Army.
Exercise principle of distinction, CHR Chair warns
In an earlier statement in response to President Duterte’s pronouncement, CHR Chair Chito Gascon reminded the AFP to apply the principle of distinction, distinguishing farmers and civilians from rebels.
Gascon also said that he’s office has noted rights violations among conflict areas where civilians are mistakenly tagged as members and supporters of the NPA and worse, are being tortured and killed even without due process.
“If violation of humanitarian law occur, then we must investigate and hold the perpetrators to account,” Gascon pressed.