'Dialogue' between Army and progressive groups turns out to be propaganda monologue

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/2 Dec) – It was supposed to be a dialogue between the Army, represented by a brigade commander, and militant groups to settle some human rights issues in North Cotabato, upon invitation by a committee of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

But as it turned out, Col. Cesar Sidello, commander of the 602nd Infantry Brigade, took the center stage and expounded on the Army’s thrusts and campaign, even though the progressive groups wanted to discuss the Army’s supposed continued use of government facilities — like barangay halls, women’s and children’s centers — as temporary outposts.

The dialogue, called for by the Committee on Peace and Order and Human Rights of the provincial board, was aimed at shedding light on several human rights issues, including the use of government facilities as temporary outpost of soldiers assigned in Arakan, Antipas, Makilala, Tulunan, and Magpet, municipalities perceived by the military as “hotbeds” of the communist insurgency.

The meeting was held Wednesday at the capitol rooftop of the Cotabato provincial complex here.

Board member Ernesto Concepcion, who chairs the committee, said he wanted the dialogue to be a venue where both military and progressive groups could ventilate their issues.

Concepcion led the investigation of alleged military abuses and human rights violations by some elements of the 57th Infantry Battalion of the 602nd Brigade and the 39th Infantry Battalion of the 1002nd Brigade by occupying barangay halls, women and children’s centers, and houses of civilians as their temporary outposts.

The complaints were filed at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in North Cotabato, Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato (ASLPC) and the women’s group Gabriela-North Cotabato.

The groups decided to elevate the issues at the provincial legislative council level after the municipal council of Makilala in North Cotabato allegedly failed to address the complaints.

The dialogue was supposed to start at 9 a.m., but started two hours later because Sidello, who headed the Army contingent, arrived at the conference room of the Cotabato provincial capitol complex around 10:45 a.m.

Joel Virador, national executive vice-president of Bayan Muna, said Sidello took the “center stage” when he delivered a two-hour presentation which tackled the Army’s thrusts and their campaigns. For Virador’s group, it was “pure and simple propaganda.”

The dialogue, according to Virador, was a failure because the military did not commit to stop using civilian structures as their temporary outposts.

“The military will still use the civilians as shields in its counter-insurgency operations. The doctrine of harmonizing progressive parties and peoples’ organizations will continue under Oplan Bantay Laya through Special Operations Teams in the guise of census, peace and development agenda,” Virador said.

Virador’s group, however, was grateful the provincial government facilitated the gathering.

For Virador, the problem lies solely on the military for not recognizing laws on human rights and war protocols under the International Humanitarian Law.

But Sidello claims he knows the rules, laws, and the basics of human rights.

“For one, a human right is an individual right,” he said.

Sidello said, too, that he knows the processes involved in filing complaints. “For one, a complaint should be filed by affected persons. What happened here was that these groups that claimed they are defending the affected individuals are the ones filing the complaint. But the alleged affected individuals are actually not saying anything,” Sidello pointed out.

The meeting ended at 3:45 p.m., almost five hours since it started.

Concepcion stressed that his committee, after hearing both sides, will make recommendations in order to resolve the complaints filed in his office. (Malu Cadeliña Manar / MindaNews)