Military: we will leave if NPA leaves

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 3 Aug) – The military is willing to pull out its troops in the Lumad communities but the New People’s Army (NPA) should also do the same, said Maj. Gen. Rafael Valencia, commander of the 10th Infantry Division.

He told a joint press conference of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police Wednesday that that pulling out their troops should be done simultaneously with NPA rebels leaving the Lumads communities behind, so that the tribal people who have been allegedly displaced by militarization can go back to their communities.

“Whoever demands to stop militarization, they have to be realistic. NPAs should leave and the Army will also leave. We are willing to go back to our home units if there are no more NPAs in the barangays… The NPA is causing trouble in the mountains,” he said.

Valencia said he feared the NPAs would continue driving a wedge between the people and the government if the military is the only one who leaves the communities.

“He who is the cause of the cause is the cause of them all,” Valencia borrowed the words of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to point out that military operations continue due to the presence of the NPA in the hinterland communities.

He said the NPA’s activities in the mountains bring the people away from the government while noting that the military intends to bring them closer to the government by conducting community outreach programs.

At least 300 Lumad “bakwits” from Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon have been staying for more than a year at the Haran Evacuation Center, a facility run by the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) here.

Lumads claimed that they left their homes due to the several human rights violations committed by the military and a paramilitary group called “Alamara.” They claimed that violations include, among others, vilifications, harassments, and military encampments inside Lumad school campuses.

Valencia denied the allegation of the NPA that they did not heed the Duterte’s ceasefire declaration with the communists.

For his part, Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo B. Guerero, Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) commander, said that military and NPA encounters have continued after Duterte lifted last Saturday the unilateral ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army- National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP).

“This only shows that the military will abide by the decision of the commander in chief. With the lifting of the ceasefire, we will pursue our mandate to our people in the barangays. We will have immersion activities in the barangays, this being the essence of our campaign at the EastMinCom,” he said.

Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao told MindaNews that military presence in the communities and schools of Lumads are clear violations of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

The IHL is a “set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of welfare.”

“Remember that AFP as state actors are mandated to observe the prescribed protocols that they are not allowed to camp or station in populated areas… The very purpose of the AFP is to secure the entry and operations of mining, logging, and agribusiness plantations. The very purpose of the AFP’s encampment in communities is to suppress any opposition,” Casilao said.

He added that the NPA was established “as an army of the peasant class who belongs to the poorest and the exploited class to struggle against a government that allows its instrumentalities – AFP, courts, PNP – in justifying the injustices committed.” (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)