'Civilians to suffer if peace talks won't resume'

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 December) – Civilians will continue to bear the brunt of the armed conflict in Southern Mindanao unless the peace talks between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) will resume, a leader of the partylist group Bayan Muna said.

Ariel Casilao, regional coordinator of Bayan Muna for Southern Mindanao, said that the heavy concentration of troops in the region, in Compostela Valley in particular, makes encounters and displacements of civilians “inevitable”, citing the rising number of displaced persons monitored by the human rights group Karapatan this year alone.

”Southern Mindanao is now host to 20 full-sized battalions, and four infantry brigades, two of them in Compostela Valley alone,” Casilao said.

“Compostela Valley, where big mining companies operate, has the country’s largest concentration of troops,” he said

“Until peace negotiations start, armed skirmishes are inevitable in Southern Mindanao because of the heavy deployment of troops here,” he added.

Karapatan’s yearend report monitored 92 cases of forcible displacement, affecting 4,724 families or approximately 25,000 people in Southern Mindanao alone. The report also pointed out the rising number of alleged human rights violations in areas where there is heavy deployment of troops.

The group monitored 406 cases of harassment, threat and intimidation in the last six months of the Arroyo administration, affecting 3,311 families or 19,069 people. During the first six months of the Aquino administration, similar cases decreased to 37, affecting 874 families or 8,104 people.

For the year 2010 alone, Karapatan documented 72 cases of extrajudicial killings in the region, three of them occurring under the new administration.

The group recorded 31 instances where civilians were used as “guides” or “shields” in police and military operations, and 51 cases where schools and other public places were used for military purposes.

The report also noted the deployment of peace and development teams of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) which conducted house to house census in Paquibato, Bago Oshiro, Toril and Los Amigos in Davao City; in the towns of Maco, Mawab, Maragusan and Compostela in Compostela Valley; in Kapalong, Davao del Norte; and in Cateel, Davao Oriental.

The house to house census allegedly recorded the personal data of people in the communities, including the groups they were joining.

In Bago Oshiro, Jennifer Jaranquilla, an active member of the urban poor group Kadamay, said soldiers particularly told them not to attend rallies.

The Constitution safeguards the rights of the citizens to free expression and peaceful assembly. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)