THE PAMALAKAYA TIMES EDITORIAL
Manila talking peace while terrorizing people
The resumption of the stalled peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines will kick off in the last week of August, a development welcomed by peace advocates all over the Philippines.
However, peace advocates at the same time are worried because while the Manila government is talking peace, its armed forces are on a rampage displacing thousands of civilians in the countryside.
A report from the National Solidarity Mission to the Lumad Evacuees in Surigao del Sur revealed that since June 18, 2009, some 303 Manobo families with 1,795 individuals fled their mountain communities in the municipalities of Lianga, San Agustin and Tago in Surigao del Sur after the deployment of troops from different units under the 401st Infantry Brigade.
According to the human rights watchdog Karapatan in Caraga Region, the deployment of thousands of troops was aimed at promoting peace and development in the communist influenced areas, so to implement their community projects, specifically literacy projects in 15 indigenous farming communities.
But the group said the literacy projects of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were ironic. The human rights group said these Manobo peasant communities already have schools that were established with the help of the Tribal Filipino Program in the province and the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, two non-government organizations that were branded by the National Security Council of Malacañang as fronts of communist guerillas and the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Reports reaching regional and provincial media outlets said military checkpoints have been set up that limited the amount of food that could be brought into the communities. Worse, the schools of tribal children were surrounded 24 hours a day and seven times a week by the military prompting the children to quit school for fear of military harassment.
The mission also said government troops in full-battle gear have encamped the homes of tribal people and they maintained detachments and war posts within the range of fire of civilian communities, a situation which local government agencies and authorities refused to address for fear of military reprisal.
Karapatan-Caraga region chapter said negotiations for the immediate return of the evacuees to their homes were facilitated by Surigao del Sur Governor Vicente Pimentel and witnessed by the forthcoming president of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and Tandag Diocese Bishop Nereo Odchimar. But these negotiations remain bleak because the military refused to pull out from the tribal peasant communities.
The deployment of government troops in battalion sizes in these tribal farmer communities is not the first time since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency in 2001. In 2005 and 2007, the military launched an occupation campaign where their operations resulted in the death of an indigenous farmer and the enforced disappearance of four other tribal farmers.
During the same years, cases of physical and psychological torture were committed against members of the 15 Lumad peasant communities, and other cases of human rights violations such as destruction and disruption of their livelihood, cessation of classes because of the use of the schools as military barracks that created fear and insecurity among their children.
The Manila government clearly violated a lot of international instruments in the conduct of just and humane war as enshrined in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights and other protocols serving as guides in the conduct of civil war.
President Arroyo and the AFP also summarily violated its agreement with the NDFP, which is the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law that prohibits the military from terrorizing the civilian populace in the course of military operations against the New People’s Army, the political armed group of the CPP.
Terrorizing civilians, whom the military suspects of supporting the NPAs is a national policy of the Manila government and this campaign of unjust war and state terror has been going since time immemorial in vain attempt to crush the raging war for national liberation espoused by the New People’s Army in rural Philippines.
Based on the consolidated report filed by Karapatan from 2001 to 2008, the Manila government under the Arroyo administration forced the evacuation and displacement of 868,096 Filipinos and committed human rights abuses in the form of indiscriminate firing to some 534,717 individuals during the same period.
Since 2001 up to December 2008, the government imposed food blockades victimizing 79,840 people. In the conduct of its counter-insurgency program against the communist guerillas, human rights organizations reported that the use of schools, medical, religious and other public places by the military affected 47,718 people mostly farmers and their children.
Also during the same period, advocates of children’s rights in rural communities revealed that the Manila government violated the rights of 7,749 children all over the country in the course of military operations.
These data on human rights abuses are excluded from the hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, which according to Karapatan have already victimized 991 and 201 political activists over the last 8 years of the Arroyo administration.
Meanwhile, the NDFP leadership in Mindanao has urged the Manila government and the Philippine military to stop terrorizing the tribal communities. It asserted that peoples’ communities should be spared from any forms or any kinds of state terror and military action in accordance with the UN instruments on human rights and on the conduct of war against armed national liberation movements like the one waged by NPAs.
Very much concerned with the situation of the tribal communities, the NDFP said the Philippine military should be compelled to stop its operations to allow humanitarian assistance groups to conduct immediate relief and rehabilitation works. It said the Arroyo government should pull out its troops to allow evacuees’ safe return to their homes and resume their production in the farms and build their interrupted livelihood affected by the military all-out offensive against the communist guerillas.
People’s associations and non-government organizations working for the rights and welfare of tribal communities should bring the issue before members of the peace panel in Oslo, Norway where the talks will be held. In particular, we suggest these groups to bring their complaints against the Government of the Republic of the Philippines to the NDFP peace panel and copy furnish the Royal Norwegian Government, being the third party facilitator to the peace talks.
Advocates of human rights should castigate and denounce the Manila government and the Philippine military for wantonly violating the rights of the people in the name of its counter-insurgency program and ideology of national security. It is one of the politically correct ways of addressing the humanitarian emergency problem and gross human rights abuses in Surigao del Sur.