RESIDENTS in the hinterland village of Payaopayawan in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental demanded for the immediate pull-out of the government security forces in their area.

Jose Luis Blanco of militant group Karapatan Negros Oriental told Sun.Star that the residents insist that the soldiers of the Army's 79th Infantry Battalion (IB) and 11th IB currently detailed within the community to leave immediately to offset any human rights violation.

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Blanco identified the soldiers allegedly involved in human rights violations are members of the unit led by a certain 2Lt. Maborang and John Arances with 13 others.

Mateo Pahayahay, of the Nagkahiusang Maguuma sa Payaopayawan (Namaspa), said that their members initiated a dialogue with the "offending" soldiers to evict them from the village.

Namaspa is allied group of the militant farmers Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).

“Residents’ painful experiences with soldiers in the past including the disastrous bombing in September 2008 that led to the evacuation of residents and morbid harassment, physical assault even against their older citizens and other violations dictated their move,” Blanco said in a statement sent to Sun.Star.

“A three month stay of soldiers in the community last year brought unimaginable fears as they single out individuals accused of supporting the underground movement,” he added.

Blanco stressed that community leaders were also interrogated and harassed.

“Several farmers were also coerced to file charges against certain NPA forces,” he said.

He also added that another thing that bothers the residents most was the use of their houses and places of worship for military abode.

“When told to vacate these, the government soldiers claimed that they are allowed to use public facilities,” Blanco said.

At the moment, he said, the residents are circulating a petition as initial steps against the military encroachment.

Blanco said the human rights advocate Karapatan supports Namaspa-Kaugmaon-KMP in its demand to drive the soldiers away from the village.

“Placing themselves in populated community puts to risk the safety of citizens in the event of enemy offenses and is prohibited by pertinent international humanitarian laws,” he said.

“They should respect the residents' sentiments and leave immediately,” he added.

He stressed that the military should also understand that their presence is not welcome in the area.

For his part, Lieutenant Colonel Pio Diñoso III, commanding officer of the 79th Infantry Battalion, categorically denied the allegations against his troops.

The soldiers, he said, are doing community outreach activities in the area.

“We want to check their conditions and bring to appropriate agencies for issues they might want to be heard,” Diñoso said adding, “Soldiers of 79th IB are exemplars of discipline and are people loving."

He also said that they will not be distracted in their desire to help the people.

Moreover, former 79th IB commanding officer Lt. Col. Erwin Bernard Neri stressed that the alleged violation of human rights against Army troopers are just propaganda of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Neri, who is assigned at the 3rd Infantry Division’s headquarter of the Philippine Army, said that they have top officials to decide either they will be pulled out or not. (Victor L. Camion)