Church groups hit military for ‘murder,’ other abuses

>> Sunday, March 13, 2016

81st IBPA assailed for ‘atrocities’ in urban towns 

CANDON CITY, Ilocos Sur -- Workers from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and human rights groups expressed their concern over widespread violation of International Humanitarian Law in the province which included murder of residents allegedly by the military. 
Members of the United Church Workers Organization of the UCCP North Luzon Jurisdiction (UCWO-NLJ), the statement of commitment titled “Let God’s peace and justice rill like a river,” outlined their alarm and call for the respect of the rules of war.
The group voiced their “wholehearted support and prayers to the people who are bravely asserting their rights against repression and militarization.”
Ilocos Sur was one of priority provinces identified during Gloria Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya. In 2003, the Philippine Army’s 50th Infantry Battalion tried to suppress the growing struggle of peasants against tobacco monopoly and landlords leaving a trail of human rights violations.
“Before leaving in 2010, the 50th IBPA murdered Elmer Valdez and Nicolas Ramos in Sta. Lucia and Salcedo respectively,” said the statement sent by Ma. Zoilo Balabad, UCWO secretary general.
“Despite the numerous complaints of human rights violations that resulted from military deployment in the province, the Aquino government pursued the same policy under Oplan Bayanihan. The 81st IBPA under the AFP’s 7th Infantry Division is the unit currently detailed in the province. They are augmented by the Regional Public Safety Battalion and Provincial Public Safety Company of the Philippine National Police.
“We are deeply alarmed by reports that the Armed Forces of the Philippines have unceasingly camped and set-up detachments in communities and public places such as schools, day care centers, barangay halls and town plazas,” the group said in their statement. They also took notice of the local government’s negligence for allowing “blatant violation of people’s rights and international norms” to take place in their jurisdiction.
The 81st IBPA built their battalion headquarters adjacent to the residential area of Barangay Bugbuga. Based on 2010 census, this interior barangay of Sta. Cruz has 642 residents.
Local human rights group in the province aired similar concerns in the past. Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA) pointed that the construction of military installation near populated area and use of public places by combat troops are violations of internationally accepted norms in armed conflicts.
They called for the immediate pull-out of military camps and troops from populated areas and to pursue cases against erring military personnel. “Actions less than these are reflections of our failure to God and to our public duty,” says the document.
The group also stated their appeal for the Government of the Philippines and National Democratic front of the Philippines to “honor all previous agreements” and “give peace a chance by returning to the negotiating table.”
They capped their commitment by exhorting the people of Ilocos Sur to “remain resilient in their fight” and their “just struggle.”
The document was signed by 157 members of UCWO-NLJ during their fellowship gathering held at UCCP Sevilla, Sta. Cruz last February 18. The assembly turned over the statement with the signatures to IHRA to be attached with people’s petition against military encampments in their communities.
This, as the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA) condemned the “continuing violation” of the 81st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army of laws prohibiting military encampments in populated and public places, saying incidents if human rights violations went up in such places.
On Feb. 18, troops from said army unit occupied the barangay halls and plazas in Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur, said Rev. Fr. Saranay Respicio, IHRA chairman.
As of this writing, Army peace and development teams (PDTs) numbering from 7-15 members are now stationed in eight barangays – Conconig West, Pila East, Pila West, Sapang, Palali Sur, Namatican, Nagtablaan and Paoc Sur, Respicio said.
He added prior to this, the group documented 10 cases of 81st IBPA encampments in day care centers, barangay halls and plazas mostly in the town of Sta. Cruz.
“This practice of encamping in barangay halls and other public places and structures is an affront to existing laws and norms on armed conflicts, a violation of the International Humanitarian Law and Republic Act 7610,” said  Zoilo Baladad, the group’s secretary general.
Rule 23 of the Customary International Humanitarian Law stipulates that military objectives such as encampments and installations “to the maximum feasible extent” be located outside densely populated areas.
Likewise, Section 22 (e) of RA 7610 or the ‘Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act’ prohibits the utilization of public infrastructure for military purposes.
Baladad said that military presence in communities puts civilians at risk. She also said that her group was able to record a steep rise of human rights violations in areas where military installations and PDTs were present.
Since the construction of the 81st Battalion Headquarters in Sta. Cruz, Ilocos Sur, 16 cases of rights violations have been reported by IHRA community volunteers.

“The rate of increase of human rights violations in six years of President Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan has already surpassed the nine years under the Arroyo regime. It is very disturbing and a cause for upheaval that thirty years after the EDSA People Power revolution impunity continues and justice remains elusive,” adds Baladad.


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