By Roy Morilla in Sorsogon City
and Trinity Biglang Awa in Manila
Organizers of the 10-day Pambansang Lakbayan ng Anakpawis Para Sa Lupa at Katarungan on Saturday said the 170 marching farmers from Mindanao, Panay and Negros islands, Eastern Visayas and Central Visayas have been subjected to series of police checkpoints just to pass towns and municipalities on their way to the National Capital Region.
In text messages sent to Manila, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) secretary general Danilo Ramos said since day one of the Lakbayan, which officially kicked off in Davao City and Cagayan de Oro City, the peasant caravan and march frequently encountered checkpoints, and their vehicles were searched and checked by firearms carrying policemen and government troops as if the farmers are carrying high power rifles and explosives with them.
“The checkpoints are practically everywhere, as if this government is gearing for another all-out war and not for the May 2010 elections,” the KMP leader added. According to Ramos, the Lakbayan caravan and march hurdled checkpoints from Davao City to Butuan City and Surigao City, and from Surigao City to Liloan and Tacloban City in Leyte, and in Calbayog, Catbalogan and Catarman in Samar island before they reached the port in Allen, Northern Samar.
Last night, the PNP Sorsogon stopped the caravan from reaching the city. A negotiation was held between the police authorities and leaders of Lakbayan headed by Anakpawis party list Rep. Joel Maglunsod. After 20 minutes of negotiation, the Lakbayan was finally allowed to proceed in Sorsogon City past 8:00 last night.
This morning, the Lakbayan was stopped by policemen manning the PNP checkpoint in Castilla, Sorsogon, but through the intercession of Rep. Maglunsod and the insistence of caravan and march organizers, the marching peasants were allowed to proceed to Daraga and Legaspi City. The incident happened between 9:00 am and 10:00 am.
However, in Barangay Bascaran, Daraga, Albay, 11 caravan vehicles were stopped by military and police checkpoint. As of press time, negotiations are ongoing between the police officials and Lakbayan organizers.
Anakpawis Rep. Maglunsod said the 10-day Lakbayan was announced a week ahead of the schedule and the police and the military were all informed about the legal and legitimate activity of the farmers. “This long running nightmare of checkpoints, harassment and not so intelligence gathering adventures of the PNP and the AFP have been the usual staples of the Arroyo government to frustrate the people’s assertion of their rights,” the militant lawmaker observed.
Rep. Maglunsod said the organizers are expecting more of the same when they reach Tagkawayan, Quezon by 10:00 am tomorrow.
In a related development, the KMP, the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and Anakpawis party list said the Comelec decision exempting Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs) from gun and perform checkpoint functions is extremely dangerous.
“The Comelec decision exempting CAFGUs from the total gun ban is a major political, legal and moral blunder. The poll body merely puts a legal blanket to the killing spree and human rights violation activities of these paramilitary units, which they perform in accordance with the cruel intention and sinister agenda of the sitting presidency in Malacanang, the pro-Arroyo military clique and their warlord allies,” the groups said in their statement.
They said the Comelec should disband these paramilitary groups due to their long-running violations of human rights at any given period. “The best way to address the issue is to call for the immediate and unconditional disbandment of CAFGUs, period, period, period,” the groups said.
“Please allow us to reiterate the record straight–57 people were massacred by CAFGU forces in Maguindanao last year. Is that a joke or a remote incident to Comelec? Where is their sense of human rights, justice and political sensibility?” Anakpawis secretary general Cherry Clemente added.
Comelec commissioner Lucenito Tagle yesterday said the CAAs are allowed to carry firearms because they are considered units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which are exempted from the nationwide gun ban imposed by the poll body during election period.
Organizers of Pambansang Lakbayan ng Anakpawis Para sa Lupa at Katarungan said aside from land and justice and concrete issues and struggles on agrarian reform, the grueling 10-day long caravan and long march from different parts of Mindanao, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Panay, Negros, Bicol, Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, Ilocos, Cordillera and Cagayan Valley regions to the National Capital Region will also call for the dismantling of CAFGU units across the country.
Under Comelec resolution 8742 made effective last January 11, amending Resolution 8714, the CAFGU was exempted from gun ban along with members of the Presidential Security Group, Bureau of Fire Protection, Optical Media Board, the treasurers and deputy treasurers and members of the Internal Security Division of the Bureau of Treasury.
Prior to Comelec promulgation of Resolution 8714, Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao opposed the disarming of CAAs because these paramilitary groups are tapped by fishing companies to secure their venture in the South. For his part, Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, chief of Western Command said as far as the military is concerned, the CAFGUs are part of the military organization and not all CAFGUs are utilized by private companies operating in far flung areas.