DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 July) – Progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Mindanao Region (Bayan-SMR) accused “state elements” of harassment and surveillance of prominent members and spokespersons of their allied organizations.
At a press conference held Wednesday at Bolton St. branch of Chowking here, University of the Philippines-Mindanao professors Myfel Paluga and Andrea Ragragio claimed they were followed by suspicious men while on their way back to Davao City from General Santos City.
On Tuesday, a similar incident happened to Gabriela spokesperson May Ann Sapar while on her way to the office, the group said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines here denied any involvement of the alleged harassment involving the UP professors and the official of Gabriela.
“It is not the policy of the AFP to target civilians, especially those coming from legal organizations,” Lt. Col. Norman Zuniega, 10th Infantry Division Public Affairs chief, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
The two professors alleged that motorcycle riders tailed their vehicle while they were on the road, while men in plainclothes monitored them at their stops, Bayan said in a statement.
Paluga said that they had to find a place where a friend of theirs offered to switch vehicles so they could ditch the surveillance team.
“Two succeeding incidents involving progressive leaders and suspected security forces indicate to us that the militarization of Mindanao under Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan has intensified, spilling over from the countryside into the urban centers,” Bayan said.
Sapar said she spotted a suspicious man outside her home, and the same man got into the same jeepney that she boarded later.
The man then sat beside her, with a short firearm visibly tucked in his trousers.
Paluga and Ragragio were active during the “Defend Talaingod, Save Pantaron” campaign on behalf of the Talaingod Manobos who evacuated here to Davao City last April.
Ragragio is also the spokesperson of Pagbabago! Southern Mindanao Region and Abolish Pork Movement.
Sapar, as Gabriela spokesperson, has been involved in numerous issues about the plight of the urban poor, peasant and worker women in the region.
Paluga said an attack to the privacy of the UP personnel was also an attack to the state’s university.
At the press conference, All UP Workers Union president Ruth Gamboa condemned the move, saying that if the military needed to talk to any of the employees, they could easily go to the campus in Mintal and not follow the professors around.
“We believe that government agents are the only people who would have the means and motives to harass these progressive personalities. Bayan-SMR condemns in the strongest possible terms the continuing policy of not distinguishing between members of legitimate people’s organizations and those deemed as enemies of the state,” Bayan added.
Ragragio said “it was pathetic” of the government to target civilians when she was asked whether there could be a connection between the recent terror alarm raised by President Benigno S. Aquino, Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.
“Why would you use that much resources just to follow citizens?” she said.
Zuniega, meanwhile, said that it was not a policy of the AFP to follow people around.
“We don’t have the funds for that,” he said.
Zuniega added that they did not tolerate having military personnel being involved in threats to civilian life.
“Even if you just cuss at a civilian, you will be given administrative sanction,” Zuniega said.
On Tuesday, Lt. Col. Nestor Mondia, who was the officer at the checkpoint in Binugao, was relieved of his post after three vendors filed a complaint against him for allegedly scolding and cussing at them.
He was replaced by Capt. Richard Duculan.
The Zuniega said he encouraged the UP personnel and Gabriela leader to identify the perpetrators and file charges to the proper agencies.