Villagers flee AFP Abra bombing, schools close

>> Monday, March 27, 2017

AFP imposes food blockade; jets, choppers strafing daily 

MALIBCONG, Abra – Families fled their homes in this remote town  for fear of getting killed by continuous bombing of government planes and choppers supposedly to annihilate New People’s Army rebels who earlier raided the town police station carting away firearms and later ambushing a convoy to reinforce surrounded cops.    
This as youth group Anakbayan Cordillera demanded the government to cease their food blockade in war-affected areas in Abra like Malibcong as food is scarce among civilians in the area.
Reports from Anakbayan Abra disclosed that army checkpoints were placed since March 16, prohibiting the entry of food while military operations against alleged members of the New People’s Army are still ongoing in Malibcong.
The group said the Armed Forces of the Philippines is deliberately violating international humanitarian laws in the conduct of war, saying civilians are being deprived of their right to humanitarian aid.
A survivor, who requested anonymity, of the reported aerial bombings claimed 11 families living in four kalapaws (huts) in the Bañgilo district here, a watershed, fled the area. 
Imelda Tabiando, spokesperson of the human rights group Cordillera Human Rights Alliance said to date, no groups are allowed to go into Malibcong.
Villagers have confirmed the military have dropped 14 bombs since March 16, Tabiando said.
Reports from human rights groups claimed bombs were either dropped by jets or by combat helicopters.
Classes in at least 11 elementary schools in Malibcong have also been suspended by the Education department as the military operations continued.
This, as the military claimed fleeing NPA started forest fires in this remote town to slow down pursuing government troops after they attacked the municipal station and carted away firearms two weeks ago. The NPA rebels also ambushed a police convoy on its way to reinforce outgunned town cops which resulted to wounding of five lawmen.  
This, amid denials by police and military that aerial bombings after the twin NPA attacks on March 12 and 13 started forest fires in Sitio Lat-ey, Barangay Duldulao.
 Lt. Col. Dominic Baluga, commanding officer of the Philippine Army’s 24th Infantry Battalion blamed NPA rebels for forest fires, “to slow down pursuing troops from catching up on them.”
This, as Lat-ey barangay kagawad Antonio Ambalneg pleaded to lawmen to allow entry of relief goods into Malibcog and for police and the military not to block civic groups carrying food, medicine and supplies for military operations’ affected villagers.
Military and police checkpoints have been up in the area since March 17.
The village chief said checkpoints on the Abra–Kalinga road and the Bangued–Malibcong entryway have prevented groups from getting through since then.
Fires are continuing over five hectares of pasture and agricultural lands, Ambalneg said, although authorities denied it.
Abra police spokesperson Chief Insp. Grace Marron said they have not been appraised on alleged forest and grass fires after the NPA attacks.
The Abra-based Agustin Begnalen Command of the NPA meanwhile condemned the aerial bombings calling it state terrorism.
 “Ang nagaganap ngayon sa bayan ng Malibcong hanggang Bangued ay batas-militar kung saan nakapailalim sa kontrol ng miltar at pulis ang pangekonomiya, at pampulitikang aspeto ng buhay ng mamamayan, said Diego Wadagan, spokesperson of the command.
 Wadagan also said that local officials and employees in Mablicong were tagged by the military and police as NPAs.
 Mablicong Vice Mayor Joseph Dungay has not answered the media about exchange of accusations of the military and NPA.
This, as Luke Bagangan, secretary general of Anakbayan Cordillera said, “government military operations (in Abra) seem to target civilians. Instead of providing relief supplies for the communities they ravaged, they even prevented the people to meet their needs.” Bagangan cited incident in March 17, saying sacks of rice to be used for the fiesta of here in Barangay Bangilo were held by the AFP.
The group expressed disappointment as almost no relief came from the government despite disruption of civilian livelihood brought by military operations.
“As of today, farmers cannot even go to their farmlands to tend their crops and farm animals. If they do, the AFP may either misidentify them as members of NPA or they may be used as AFP-human shields in their operations,” said Bagangan.
The youth leader cited that the recent “AFP air bombing” in forests and farmlands of the said town forces civilians to leave their farmlands.
The AFP was urged to stop their “harassment” of humanitarian volunteers from different human rights groups.

The demand came after Anakbayan monitored several reports claiming that non-residents of Malibcong, especially human rights watchdogs, who failed to present identification cards were barred from entering the town. – With reports from Cris P. Pulmano


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