Army ‘peace and dev’t teams’ accused of harassment, other abuses

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 January)—Accusations of harassment and other abuses against civilians and groups suspected of supporting the underground movement greeted the initial deployment of the Army’s so-called peace and development teams implementing the Bayanihan counterinsurgency campaign in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley.

One of the groups that complained of harassment was Sildap, a nongovernment organization based in Tagum City that undertakes projects for Lumads in Mindanao.

Allan Delideli, Sildap executive director, told MindaNews he feared for their safety after four to six soldiers in full combat gear visited their office on December 11 and 14 last year, and again on January 11 this year, asking about their organization, its structure and the names of their staff.

The Global Network of Indigenous Peoples has expressed concern over the visits by the soldiers at Sildap’s office.

For years, Sildap has been operating schools for the Dibabawun, Mansaka and Mandaya indigenous peoples in far-flung areas of Nabunturan in Compostela Valley, Kapalong in Davao del Norte and other areas not easily reached by government.

Sildap’s schools have been accredited by the Department of Education (DepEd) and in the past years, the group served as one of the service providers for the Basic Education Assistance to Mindanao (Beam) program of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

Delideli said a certain Corporal Javier of the 69th IB of the 1003rd ID confirmed in the January 11 visit that the questioning was part of the ongoing peace and development outreach program under the Bayanihan counterinsurgency plan.

Javier reportedly visited Sildap at 9:30 am of January 11, Delideli said in a letter sent to partner organizations throughout the world.

”On December 11 and 14, in their previous visits, four to six fully armed soldiers in combat uniform, asked the same information like organizational structure, the names of personnel, activities and area of coverage,” Delideli said. ”They even took photos and took notes of posters and other printed materials on the walls.”

”When we asked for a formal communication, they only said they’re going to inform their superiors about it,” he said, adding the soldiers visited the house of a Sildap staff to ”extract more information about the organization.”

”The first visit was supposed to be a ‘census’ for the peace and development outreach program (PDOP) but the second, third and fourth visits were to extract more information about Sildap,” he said.

”The frequent visits of military personnel inflicted fear upon the household members of our staff, including her small children,” he said. ”It was during the last visit that they insinuated that Sildap has been supporting the underground movement.”

Delideli said the repeated visits by military personnel have made Sildap staff members fear for their safety.

”This is a clear harassment of an organization committed to the cause of indigenous peoples,” he said.

In other areas where soldiers pursued their Bayanihan campaign, allegations of harassment, torture and even killings committed by soldiers and paramilitary men have also surfaced.

But Lt. Col. Medel Aguilar, spokesperson of the 10th ID, dismissed these reports as “propaganda” intended to destroy the PDOP of the Philippine Army.

Nisa Labrador, wife of Nardo Labrador, said Cafgu (Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit) members attached to the 69th IB barged into their house in Paquibato Proper in Davao City at 7:30 pm on September 3 last year and shot her husband pointblank. ”They killed him without warning,” she alleged.

She said the soldiers suspected her husband, a habalhabal driver, of being a supporter of Kumander Parago, the elusive NPA leader Leoncio Pitao who has been hunted by the military for years.

Peter Villa, president of the Toril District Farmers’ Association in Davao City, said he was ”invited for questioning” by soldiers a month after the June 2010 ambush in Baracatan by the NPA that wounded and killed some soldiers.

”They invited me to the detachment and as a former Cafgu member, I went,” Villa said in Cebuano. “But when I arrived, they took me to a hut, covered my eyes with a black cloth, and took turns beating and\ questioning me,” he said. ”They also rubbed a knife blade at the back of my neck as they forced me to admit I was part of the NPA team that staged the ambush.”

”Gigulgol og kutsilyo ang likod sa akong liog, sumbag, hampak sa baga (They rubbed the knife blade on my nape and beat me up),” Villa told reporters, who asked him to explain how he was “tortured.”

“Nakatubag ko sa ilaha, wa ko’y labot sa ambush, pero moingon sila, angkuna nalang NPA ka (I told them, I did not have anything to do with the ambush but they’d reply, just admit it).”

His companion explained the knife was inverted so that the one touching his nape was not the edge.

Villa said he lives about two kilometers away from where the NPA ambush in Baracatan happened, and that he was only one of the four men beaten and questioned about it and forced to admit they were NPA members.

On September 16 last year, Vicente Felicelda was working in his copra farm in sitio Tan-awan, in barangay Malinawon in Mawab, Compostela Valley when Cafgus came and shot him, said Carlito Trangia, chair of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) for Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte.

Grace Curso, Southern Mindanao spokesperson of the women’s group Amihan, said 13 peasant women including 13- and 14-year-old girls and a 65-year-old woman, were illegally detained for three days in September last year after 25th IB soldiers suspected them of being NPA members.

”The two girls spent four days in a Monkayo jail until they were rescued by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD),” said Curso. ”The others were brought to Nabunturan.”

Jennifer Rabog said she saw her sister Jessica on television being presented by soldiers as an NPA rebel returnee.

”I know my sister, she was a student, not an NPA. She quit school to work as a domestic helper in June last year but when she went home in August, she had a soldier for a boyfriend. The next thing we heard, she was a ‘surrenderree’,” she said. “How can that be, she’s never been an NPA?”

Pedro Arnado, spokesperson of KMP Southern Mindanao, also said the continuing war in the countryside and the presence of soldiers has been affecting the farmers’ livelihood. He said farmers have been complaining they now have fewer hours to work in their farms due to the curfews and food blockade implemented by soldiers.

He said that in barangay Sibulan in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur, soldiers would control the quantity of rice for each household for fear that some excess supply might find their way to the NPA.

”They keep track of the number of household members,” said Arnado.

”In some instance, farmers carrying half a sack of rice for a five-member household will only be allowed to carry half of that volume for their consumption. When they run out of rice, they have to walk five kilometers back to the soldiers’ detachment to claim their rice,” he said.

Arnado said the curfew has hampered not only the movement of farmers but also their working hours.

The house to house census and questioning oftentimes ends up with a warning against joining groups or participating in protest activities and rallies, a basic right provided by the Constitution, he added. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)