DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 February) — City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte has offered to ask regional prosecutor Antonio B. Arellano to investigate alleged cases of harassment and encampments of the 10th Infantry Division in areas in Compostela Valley which should be off-limits to military presence.
Duterte announced the move during a dialogue held at the Grand Men Seng Hotel last week where human rights groups and residents of the affected communities demanded a military pullout from schools and residential areas.
Military officials and members of Karapatan, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) attended the dialogue which Duterte volunteered to mediate.
But the mayor clarified accusations by the military against members of the New People’s Army will also be investigated to be fair to all parties.
“Let’s go directly to the prosecution. Identify the culprits, and everybody pays for his deeds,” he said.
He added that as a matter of courtesy, he would also talk with Governor Arturo Uy and other local officials on the issue.
“I am friends with both sides because I go everywhere,” Duterte said, adding he was in constant contact with both government and rebel forces.
He, however, said he would draw the line whenever civilians were hurt as a result of clashes between the NPA and the military.
CRC advocacy officer Rius Valle said a school in Purok 4-B, Barangay Mangayon in Compostela town has called Salugpongan Ta’ Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc., had been used as camp by the 67th Infantry Battalion (IB) since August 2013.
Valle added other parts of the area had been used as military camps since 2011.
He said the 25th and 26th IBs had also occupied Sitio Bongkilaton, Barangay Ngan, Compostela and Quelangcog, Loreto, Agusan Del Sur, respectively.
He said around 60 elements of the 25th IB had encamped inside the public school in Ngan.
Valle said military presence had “threatened” local residents, adding some of them were interrogated and tagged as NPA members.
Lt. Col. Elmer Aterado, 25th IB commander, admitted during the dialogue that they were in the area on October 4, 5, and 6 to conduct resupply operations.
Aterado said resupply operations are necessary to ensure safety for their units.
He added they had intercepted minors in the area who initially reported supplying rice to their communities but had been seen in intelligence photos as NPA members.
Meanwhile, Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) chief General Ariel Bernardo said troops are needed in the area due to NPA presence.
He, however, conceded that military forces are not allowed to use civilian facilities as encampments and promised to order the remaining troops to pull out of the area.
Bernardo also denied allegations by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Southern Mindanao and other groups that the 10ID had bombed farmlands and communities in Compostela Valley.
He said aerial bombings don’t happen without the presence of spotters on the ground.
“I have even ordered the pilots never to bomb areas that had a civilian population,” he added.
Rev. Jurie Jaime, spokesperson of Karapatan in Southern Mindanao, said the military presence threatened the livelihoods and safety of the residents.
Duterte assured there would be no more military presence in communities, particularly in schools and other government facilities.
“Do not involve civilians,” he said.
The mayor held the dialogue a week after protesters clashed with police during a rally last Feb. 13 outside the Eastmincom headquarters.
He said the protesters were not from the city.
Photojournalist Barry Ohaylan was injured during the protest. Duterte said he would investigate the matter.
The mayor, however, told the protesters in the dialogue that while he respected their right to freedom of expression, the soldiers were “not in the position to talk to them.”
“It would have been better if you all went directly to me,” he said. (MindaNews)