Lawyers say cash rewards for soldiers replacing rule of law with rule of gun

UPLM secretary-general Carlos Isagani Zarate said news of AFP’s “additional funds and rewards for its counterinsurgency campaign spells trouble for the people in Mindanao.”

The rewards system gives cash incentives to soldiers for areas “cleared” of  New People’s Army (NPA) influence in the government’s bid to crush the communist insurgency by 2010.

Army chief LtGen. Victor S. Ibrado, who used to head the Central Command in the Visayas where the rewards system was first implemented, had  announced the institutionalization of the scheme that has reportedly been effective and one that boosts the morale of the troops.

MindaNews columnist Gail Ilagan last week noted that “with the Philippine Army finally institutionalizing a scheme that had been unevenly applied in the ranks for years, it raises concern for many sectors. While it does not come as a surprise to soldiers, it’s too much to take in for many soldier watchers. There are some of us who are horrified with this development as it is perceived to evolve our men into mercenaries fighting for bounty. Examine that, and we’ll find a mindset where we expect our men to die for close to nothing. There are some who think that the cash incentives would reinvigorate militarized violence – yes, I admit to taking out the map to see which areas would need resources for evacuation of civilians and which areas would soon be hogging the headlines with the merry exchange of propaganda.”

Zarate said the rewards system “demeans and transforms the Armed Forces from its Constitutional role.  Instead of being protectors of the people, they become bounty hunters and war machines.  This further tarnishes the image of the AFP, which is widely criticized both locally and internationally for its human rights abuses and is being held accountable for involvement in extrajudicial killings and disappearance.”

“Further, this counter-insurgency campaign aided by more funds causes alarm as impunity will continue.  The AFP’s Oplan Bantay Laya I had resulted to nearly 900 extrajudicial killings and 190 enforced disappearance of activists, lawyers, church leaders and civilians.  We can already imagine what Oplan Bantay Laya II will happen, as more funds and more guns will come.”

The UPLM  noted that Lumads and farmers in Compostela Valley have fled their villages for fear of getting caught in a crossfire between government forces and the New People’s Army. Some of the evacuees are presently seeking shelter in Bangkerohan gym in Davao City.

“The evacuees and the local government have called for the stop of the operations, yet 10th ID spokesperson Maj. Aguada said there will be no let up to their operations until it accomplishes its goal,” Zarate said.

He said Aguada’s statement “has shown what the danger of the reward funds will do. It only adds fuel to the military’s pursuit of rebels at the expense of human rights and peace of the communities.”

Zarate cited the case of activist farmer Celso Pojas who was killed few days ago by motorcycle riding men, in “the same manner that many activists were killed under OBL I.”

“A few days after, activists and their offices are being surveiled.  Even the UPLM Office in Matina, Davao is being surveiled. Who knows what or who is next?” Zarate asked. (MindaNews)