CATBALOGAN CITY, Samar – In less than a week, the original count to the San Jose de Buan mass evacuation has ballooned to more than a thousand evacuees after similar incidents of militarization have transpired in Barangay San Nicolas, Can-Aponte and San Pedro, observes Bayan.
The common denominator these communities share with Barangay Hagbay is that the military is using public infrastructure and private homes to their tactical advantage in order to dissuade the presence of the New People’s Army, who by their public declaration recognizing international humanitarian law, cannot launch counter-offensives against the military anywhere near civilian settlements.
Since the start of the evacuation, the mass media has fixed its gaze on the conflicting accounts of peace and order peddled by the military versus the documentary evidence proving the climate of fear experienced by the evacuees.
In a noon-time interview with Bombo Radyo yesterday, the 87th IB even attacked the filing of a complaint led by BAYAN and its partners before the Commission on Human Rights last March 25 as anything but credible.
The reaction of the Commission to form a special fact-finding group for the evacuation is, however, evidence enough that the complaint holds water and is worthy of a full-blown investigation from the agency. On all accounts, the military has failed to portray that activism in the name of fighting for human rights is passé.
In a desperate attempt to appease the public uproar against the evacuation, the 87th Infantry Battalion underwent a change of tone by supposedly allowing the evacuees to return back home. However, the Municipal Peace and Order Council meeting held yesterday morning, where the 87th IB was represented in, pressed for continued military presence in the barrios of Buan without a single concession given to the call for complete withdrawal.
Soldiers have also been documented coercing the evacuees to return back home in the soonest possible time, guns loaded and the evacuation site totally encircled. Apparently, the 87th IB has learned from the bad press experience of the 63rd Infantry Battalion who got under hot waters for forcibly evacuating Barangay Bay-ang in San Jorge, Western Samar while withholding their return in the name of sustained clearing operations against the supposed presence of rebel groups in early January.
The military is taking every chance it can get to twist the truth and convert the readied testimonies of the people into silence with their guns. The only recourse the people had were to transmit their call for help in the form of a massive public display of coordinated evacuations, a sign of united protest against militarization and fascism in their part of the region.
It is incumbent upon Governor Sharee Ann Tan, who not only leads the province of Samar as its chief executive but also bares the responsibility to ensure peace as Chair of the Regional Peace and Order Council, to order the military’s complete and unconditional withdrawal from the communities they are presently encamped in.
BAYAN is speaking directly to Governor Tan on Wednesday, with the entire region watching to see what she utters as the barometer for their decision in the upcoming midterm elections. Will Tan, who aspires to be one of Samar’s congressional representative speak on behalf of the people by listening to their concerns or will turn her coat, as her family has done multiple times, to side with the military and suit her narrow interests?
With Tan standing as the initial author to Memorandum Order Number 32, she is equally culpable of violating human rights and international humanitarian law beside the military. She must heed the public demand to recommend the scrapping of MO 32 before the President’s Office and publicly recognize the damage it has caused in the numerous mass evacuations and forced surrenderees it has engendered in the time of its implementation. [BicolToday.com]