Deployment of Special Forces to Norther Mindanao slammed

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Friday, January 31, 2014


WITH the augmentation of the Philippine Army’s 1st Special Forces Battalion (1SFB) in Northern Mindanao, an indigenous people’s group feared they will be sitting-duck targets of rights abuses.

Jomorito Goaynon, chairperson of Kalumbay regional lumad organization, said they expect more trumped-up charges, extra judicial killings, and grave human rights violations in the region.

Brigadier General Gerardo Barrientos Jr., assistant division commander of the 4th Infantry Division (4ID), announced weeks ago that around 200 soldiers from (1SFB) were brought in to boost their fight against the Maoist fighters in Northern Mindanao and Cagara regions.

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The 1SFB will be handing the paramilitary forces under the 4ID.

Previous violations

Goaynon said the 1SFB along with other army battalions in Quezon province in Luzon scored 16 cases of extra judicial killings and three enforced disappearances in just two years beginning in 2012.

“Some members of the 1SFB were also involved in the infamous Atimonan shootout wherein thirteen individuals were brutally killed, including innocent civilians,” said Goaynon.

Capt. Christian Uy, 4ID spokesman, said the issue about the shootout has been moved to the court.

He said the soldiers acted based on the request by police officers against an armed group.

“Let the court decide,” said Uy regarding the involvement of the 1SFB on Atimonan shootout.

Meanwhile, Barrientos praised the 1SFB as highly trained in unconventional warfare and high risk missions.

Goaynon added: “Perhaps Gen. Barrientos failed to mention that these soldiers are experts on the deceptive, genuinely anti-people and brutal tactics and strategies stipulated in Oplan Bayanihan.”

On Captain Christian Uy’s pronouncements that the 1SFB soldiers are highly trained in the art of security and peace development, Goaynon said: “Based on the army’s recent actions and 1st SF Battalion’s records, perhaps what they would like to do is to add the letters ‘R’ and ‘I’ to the word ‘peace’ and deliver it to various groups and individuals critical of President Aquino III’s economic and political policies.”

Goaynon said they find no comfort in Uy’s pronouncements.

Imminent abuses

“With Maj. General Ricardo Visaya as top dog of the 4ID, an escalation of rights abuses will be more imminent,” Goaynon said.

He said Visaya was a protégé of the ‘notorious butcher’ Jovito Palparan who has a long history of human rights abuses against community members who are actively campaigning for their rights.

“He was the commanding officer of 69th Infantry Battalion in 2004–2007 that the human rights watch dog Karapatan tagged as the ‘torture battalion,’ said Goaynon.

Goaynon furthered that Visaya was one of the think-tanks behind militarizing Bicol region and urban areas in National Capital Region.

He said Visaya was also the ground commander of the Hacienda Luisita massacre back in November of 2004.

‘Mere propaganda’

Uy said they only have one answer to the allegations raised by Goaynon: “mere propaganda.”

He said since Visaya became the Brigadier General of the division until today, no human rights violations were ever committed in the region.

“This is all intended to destroy our credibility,” said Uy, adding that they will continue to do what they are doing.

Goaynon said 12 members of legitimate peoples’ organizations and farmer advocates were slapped with charges they know nothing about.

“Estelita Tacalan, a 63-year-old farmer-organizer, and peasant advocate Joel Yagao were slapped with trumped-up charges,” he said.

Tacalan was accused of being a top rebel leader in Western Mindanao and Yagao is now detained at the Gingoog city jail.

Uy said Yagao is one of the suspects that took part in the ambush of Ruthie Guingona, former mayor of Gingoog City.

He said the police officers issued a warrant of arrest for him and the court will decide if he is guilty of the charges or not.

Aquino regime

“These violations, as well as other documented incidents of harassments, surveillance operations done against political and social justice activists in the region constricts the already small democratic space under Aquino III’s regime,” said Goaynon.

He said the Aquino III administration has literally sent the grim reaper to peasants and lumads, instead of respecting their ancestral domains and the right to a self-determined development.

Goaynon added: “We call on Major Gen. Visaya to spare the Lumad and peasant communities from the unabated attacks and instead urge his sponsor—US-Aquino III regime—to attend to the development of the rural communities and resume the peace talks with the National Democratic Front to address the roots of the armed conflict instead of escalating his campaign of brutal suppression.”

But Uy said the government of the Philippines’ peace panel is always open for negotiations and it is the National Democratic Front of the Philippines that severed negotiations with them.

Goaynon said if the root cause of the conflict remains unaddressed, the 4ID can expect a much stronger actions of condemnation from the peasants and Lumads.

Kalumbay is the largest alliance of Lumad organizations in Northern Mindanao who struggles for their right to self-determination, ancestral domain and indigenous culture.

Goaynon said the organization campaigned internationally for justice over the slaying of their 14 leaders and members since Aquino was put into power.

Army

Uy said the Philippine Army will continue to do its tasks in protecting the security of the people against the few who seek to destroy our democratic way of life.

“We will continue with our mandate,” Uy said.

Uy added they will continue to launch combat operations to halt the intentions of the rebels in the countryside.

He said through the community organizing for peace and development, the government through the military will address the problems of the people especially in the hinterlands.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 31, 2014.

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