Ilocos military human rights violations

>> Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Alfred P. Dizon

(Hereunder is a fact-finding report of the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation on “military abuses” in Salcedo, Ilocos Sur which they want the national government to address):
On July 22, local media reported an encounter between the 81st Battalion, under the 702nd Brigade, 7th Division of the Philippine Army’s infantry unit and the NPA in Barangay Sorioan, Salcedo. Lt. Col. Eugenio Osias, commanding officer of the unit announced the following day over a local radio station that they will file charges against those they perceive as New People’s Army sympathizers. He also claimed that their troop discovered documents containing names of NPA contacts after the said firefight.
A few days after the incident, the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance-Karapatan (IHRA-Karapatan) and the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) received reports of human rights violations by military and police personnel from members of Timpuyog dagiti Umili iti Karayan Buaya (TUKB).
STOP Exploitation alerted IHRA on July 26 regarding the detention of farmer Ricardo Foronda from Barangay Baybayading, Salcedo, Ilocos Sur by members of the military.
The information, according to the regional peasant federation, came from Ricardo’s brother, Jimmy who is a member of Timpuyog ti Umili ti Karayan Buaya (TUKB), the local affiliate of STOP Exploitation.
At about 11 a.m. of July 27, Sangguniang Bayan member Rogelio Biteng informed IHRA that six farmers from Baybayading were waylaid by the military while searching for a carabao. In the afternoon, IHRA was able to get in touch with Francesca Frances, punong barangay of Baybayading, who confirmed the information and gave an initial account of the incident.
According to her, six farmers were accosted by the military on July 25 at around 9 a.m. and were only turned over to the municipal police station at about 7 p.m. She also said the farmers claimed to have been shown and asked a list of names whom the military accused of supporting the NPA.
These reports prompted IHRA and STOP Exploitation to conduct the fact finding mission (on August 4) to validate and document the reports, and gather other human rights and international humanitarian law violations in the area. Representatives from the Ilocos Sur Ecumenical Movement and Anakbayan also participated in the mission.
The local government of Salcedo was informed on August 1 of the activity. TUKB, the local affiliate of STOP Exploitation coordinated and facilitated the conduct of the FFM in Brangay Bayabayading and Lucbuban.
Field interviews and group discussions with residents and barangay officials were done on August 4. The delegates were divided into two teams to cover the two barangays.
A day after the reported skirmish between the 81st IB and the NPA in Barangay Sorioan, army personnel looked for and talked to Eldrie Bagsingit, a barangay kagawad in Barangay Lucbuban.
On his way from the ricefields two army personnel stopped and talked to him. The army showed him a list containing his name and three others and claimed that the document was recovered during a firefight with rebels.
When Bagsingit brushed it aside as an old fabricated accusation, the army changed his statement, saying it came from an NPA who surrendered in La Union. When Eldrie did not budge and maintained that he did not commit any wrongdoing or violated any law, the two said, “Para patunayan mo na ikaw bahagi ng gobyerno, kapag may pumunta dito ipaalam mo sa amin.” Eldrie explained that as kagawad, he is already a part of the government but refused to submit to the demand of the army to become an informer. Before he left, the army said that they will look and talk to him again.
On July 25, Girlie Garido, Punong Barangay of Pias, Salcedo informed Mary Ann Gabayan, deputy secretary general of IHRA and resident of the same barangay that PO Reynaldo Battad of PNP Salcedo was asking about her whereabouts and employment.
At about 9 a.m. of the same day, six farmers from Barangay Baybayading were accosted by members of the 81st IB while searching for a carabao that might have been caught in the firefight near the encounter site.
Farmers Ronald Dagui, Dhanjor Hagacer, Divino Tabucol, Isaias Angagan, Ricardo Foronda and Nicolas Acutan looked for the carabao in Nagbarenaan (local name of the site of the encounter) but failed to locate it so they went farther.
They were waylaid, accosted and made to lie face down on the ground along the way, in a spot they call Gesset. Their cell phones and bolos were taken by the soldiers despite telling the soldiers they are civilians, residents of  Baybayading and their reason for being there.
The soldiers claimed that they were violating something by going to the place of the firefight. The farmers tried to identify their captors but noted that they were not wearing their name tags. They were taken to the temporary encampment of the soldiers and again asked about their personal information and their reason for being there.
When the farmers pushed the soldiers to elaborate to them what law have they violated, the soldiers just shifted their questions to a supposed list of NPA supporters.
The list included the name of one of the farmers, Divino Tabucol and former punong barangay of Baybayading Marcelo Frances. They stayed in the encampment up to 3 p.m., after which the soldiers took them and walked towards Sorioan. Upon arriving in the said barangay, they were ferried to the municipal police station by a military truck and released after their punong barangay Francesca Frances and ABC President Larry Del Rosario vouched for them.
On July 26, Battad went around the municipality asking for the officers and members of TUKB.
However, when he was confronted by the members the organization, he reasoned that he was doing it under the behest of the military.
On July 27, two residents of Lucbuban were again visited by the military. Ten uniformed personnel in full-battle gear led a certain Sgt. Erwin went to see Basilio and  accused him of being a NPA supporter. They claimed that there were NPA members in his farm who helped plant the rice seedlings and his name was listed as an NPA sympathizer. He denied all allegations and even gave the names of the farm help he employed to plant rice seedlings.
On the same day, seven uniformed army led personnel by Cpt. Cupong also visited Rudy Bistiken, a former rebel who has long surrendered to ask him to become an informer and re-apply for amnesty. However, Rudy refused the offer explaining that he has already given amnesty in the past and even received livelihood assistance.
On July 29, at about 3 p.m. PO Henry Quemado approached Levy Lacaden, daughter of TUKB secretary general Nicasio “Nick” Lacaden. The police personnel asked her if she was the daughter of Nick. When she answered yes, Quemado again asked her if her father was alone in Lucbuban and the nature of his work. She again answered in the affirmative and explained that her father was a farmer and sometimes gathered fish in the river.
Then Quemado inquired if Levy knew about TUKB. She asked him why officer was asking those questions. Quemado said that TUKB members are supporters and suppliers of the New People’s Army.
Levy said she did not know anything about TUKB supplying and supporting the rebels. Quemado just said that he is just validating the information since he was tasked by the Provincial Police Office.
On July 27, Bombo Radyo Vigan interviewed Lt. Col. Eugenio Julio Osias, the commanding officer of the 81st IB regarding the six farmers who were detained by soldiers on July 25. Here his claims:
The soldiers are still in the process of clearing the area and projects that rebels may still be present in the area. The farmers were not detained because they were walking and was just asked by soldiers. Thus, for the safety of the civilians they were taken away from the encounter site and escorted to the municipal police station.
It took the soldiers a long time to turn over the farmers to the PNP because the starting point was far, the troops’ movement were tactical and the path was slippery.
He insinuated that human rights groups and STOP exploitation benefits from what he call “extortion activities” of the NPA. Osias also linked legal mass organizations and claimed that the leaders of these organizations are the National Democratic Front of the Philippine personalities in The Netherlands and those caught in Baguio City and National Capital Region.
There is a systematic action to threaten, harass and intimidate members of Lucbuban Farmers Association, an affiliate of TUKB.The incidents narrated above are strong evidence of vilification campaign against members of progressive organizations in the Salcedo by the military and police. The AFP’s age old tactics of formulizing the idea of a supposed list of NPA supporters recovered after a firefightis again being utilized to intimidate farmers or coerce them to their will.
The six farmers were accosted and detained by the soldiers of the 81st IB. They were forcibly taken to the army’s temporary encampment. The fabrication of a supposed violation of the farmers by the soldiers indicated their motive was far from safeguarding the farmers.
In fact, their personal belonging (cell phones and bolos) were confiscated. They were denied of their right to inform their families and friends of their whereabouts when their cell phones were withheld.
The interrogation was the main reason why they were turned-over to the PNP 10 hours after they were waylaid by the soldiers, contrary to the claim of Col. Osias.
Col. Osias in his radio interview said that soldiers have not fully cleared the area when they held the farmers and they are expecting that firefight may still erupt. By taking the farmers into their temporary station and mixing them with their troops on the way to Sorioan in the late afternoon, the soldiers put the civilians under threat of possible attack.
This in essence, is an intentional co-location of civilians with military objectives (in this case, the operating military troops), a violation of Rule 22 and Rule 97 of the Customary International Humanitarian Law.
Rule 22 of the Customary International Humanitarian Law or the Principle of Precautions Against the Effects of Attacks states that “parties to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population and civilian objects under their control against the effects of attacks.”
Rule 97 of the Customary International Humanitarian Law or the Prohibition of the Use of Human Shields prohibits the “intentional co-location of military objectives and civilians or persons hors de combat with the specific intent of trying to prevent the targeting of those military objectives.”

Out of fear of the military after the 6 farmers were detained, farmers from Baybayading were kept from going to their swidden farms and rice fields. Individuals who have been accused by the military and police of being NPA sympathizers have grown weary of their security that limited their daily routine.


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