AFP over-stepping local government duties in militarizing Northern Samar; human rights groups raise alarm | BICOL TODAY

AFP over-stepping local government duties in militarizing Northern Samar; human rights groups raise alarm

Rural human rights advocates in Northern Samar meet in Catarman to study and learn documentation procedures in reporting human right abuses on situations where the State itself, represented by military units, are the perpetrators of HR violations against civilians and non-combatants. Contributed Photo

CATARMAN, Northern Samar – Government military units in Norther Samar have become “ruthless and directionless” over reports that soldiers are using as scare tactic the anti-drug campaign, Oplan Tokhang, to harass rural civilians in their counter-insurgency operations.

In disaster-risk management program supposed to be local government concern, soldiers are using the “disaster census” in selective basis to dig information on civilians and barangay residents suspected as rebel sympathizers, a form of “disaster militarism.”

Not satisfied, the military is using “Red-tagging” tactics on civilians suspected as rebel sympathisers who fear they might be murdered later on under “extra-judicial killing” operations.

These are the urgent concerns local human rights advocates in affected areas met in Catarman on Sunday, November 19, to address the pressing problems affecting barangays in highly-militarized areas.

Human rights community groups

Katungod—Northern Samar, an affiliate of KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights, has expressed its condemnation over the harassment of civilian farmers in the hinterlands of Northern Samar.

On Sunday, November 19, Katungod—Northern Samar convened human rights activists from different barangays all over the province to conduct human rights and documentation training and consolidate rights violations in the province. It was held at DCC center in Catarman town and was attended by at least 50 delegates representing Barangay Human Rights Committee of several villages.

“The accounts of barangay leaders show that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is employing different ways and means to harass resisting farmers,” Sargie Macallan, Katungod—NS Spokesperson said.

“They use ‘Oplan Tokhang’ as a scare tactic to strong-arm farmers to surrender as members of the NPA; they use disaster response to justify intelligence-driven ‘census’ and militarization of communities; they red-bait farmers in mass media,” he added.

Oplan Tokhang as scare tactic

Fedelina Rosco, Barangay Councilor and Chair of the barangay’s Human Rights Committee of Barangay San Miguel in Las Navas town, discussed in the forum how, after they conducted a dialogue between residents and soldiers of 20th Infantry Battalion encamping within their community, the military harassed her and other village officials.

“Gintawag ako nira nga NPA. An bagaw niya, pasikat ka, aadto ka sa media. Gintarhug ngani ak niya an bagaw, kun diri ak magsurrender sakob san amon ighahatag nga pagsurrender, tokhang an hingangadtuan. Bisan pa man ak magtuwad-tuwad, diri ka makakaobserbar nga NPA ak kay tawo ak san gobyerno,” she said.

(They called me an NPA. They said I wanted to be popular because I am already in the media. I was even threatened. They said if I don’t surrender within their allotted time, they will ‘tokhang’ me. I told them I am not an NPA because I work in the government, she said.)

Oplan Tokhang is government’s campaign program against illegal drugs. It has been characterized by extrajudicial killings of suspected drug addicts and pushers especially in the cities. Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Double Barrel are integrated in Oplan Kapayapaan, government’s counter-insurgency measure.

“There had been cases in other parts in the country where Oplan Tokhang was used to justify killings of mass leaders. It is worrisome that the AFP is using this as a scare tactic,” Macallan said.

Disaster militarism

Elsa Raymonde, a Barangay Health Worker (BHW) also from Barangay San Miguel, was interrogated by the military.

She narrated the military conducted a census, but was selective of which household to carry it out. “Sa amon zone ngadi sa Zone 1, ako la an ginsurvey. Nagpinanmakiana kun ano-ano la. Kun sin-o la it aada sa ira lista, mao la it ira gin-iinterbyu,” (In our zone in Zone 1, I was the only one surveyed. They asked me a lot of things. They’re only interviewing whoever is in their checklist).

In the 20th IB-sponsored radio station 100.5 FM, the military has said that “conducting census” is necessary to get actual data on the ground for their disaster response.

However, Macallan of Katungod NS said it is not the military’s role to conduct census.

“This served as their justification in militarizing civilian communities. But I ask, since when has it been the military’s job description to conduct census? Shouldn’t it be the task of the civilian government? I don’t think it is necessary for the military to overstep on the roles of civilian authorities—the Barangay Council, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and other concerned bodies of government,” Macallan said.

He noted that “reports on the ground show that such census does not even follow any research ethics as it has become their leeway to interrogate farmers.”

Katungod stressed that what people need is genuine rehabilitation after disasters and not militarization.

“The disaster risk reduction rhetoric has been widely used to justify not just militarization of communities but even military exercises in other parts in the region. What farmers need are aids, not bullets,” he said.


Salvador Jepollo, Chief Tanod of Barangay Rizal, Las Navas, also cried foul over the “red-tagging” against village officials. “Kay-ano magsusurrender kami, may mga katungod man kami sa legal nga gobyerno. Didto sa ira [NPA], waray kami katungod kay diri kami gintatapuran, didi lugod sa legal nga gintatapuran kami, ginpipinasurrender kami,” he said.

(Why are they asking us to surrender when we are officials in the legal government. We don’t have positions in the “other government”, but here in this government who trust us, we are asked to surrender.”)

Participants in the conference also reported harassment threats by military men in Catarman, Gamay and Palapag towns where soldiers have been asking people to surrender.

Alyansa san Parag-uma san Las Navasnon (APKLAS), municipal chapter of Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA), slammed radio station 100.5 FM in Las Navas for “red-tagging” farmers. “An ira programa in gintatawag nga ‘Lamrag han Katawhan’. Kun tuod man iton, kay-ano diri lugod sira maghisgut san mga lehitimo nga isyu san mga parag-uma imbes nga magpinanngaran kun sin-o sin-o la ngadto,” Bennie Alegria, Chairman of APKLAS said.

(Their radio program is called ‘Light of the People’. If they are true to their name, why don’t they tackle relevant issues of farmers instead of calling us names)

Earlier, Katungod—NS Spokesperson Macallan was also “red-tagged” by a.k.a “DJ Whisper” in the same radio station and was accused of “stealing rice,” “extortion,” “inciting to sedition” and much else besides.

“There has to be a clear delineation between human rights activists and combatants. What a.k.a “DJ Whisper” did was simply to recycle black propaganda against combatants and use it against critics like me, blurring any distinction between civilians and combatants. If at any rate they are serious with their “peace caravans,” “fun run for peace” and all other propaganda stunts in the province, the 20th IB should better “walk the talk”. It endangers us civilians; it endangers innocent farmers in the countrysides. Red-tagging is not a doing of any peace-loving institution as it unnecessarily brings civilians to the war zone,” Macallan said in his statement.

Human rights workers from different barangays pledged unity in the #StandwithSamar campaign and is set to launch series of actions in upcoming weeks. []

Posted by on November 22, 2017. Filed under Regions,Top Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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