Thursday, May 25, 2006

Address insurgency through poverty alleviation

I remember Bayan Chair for Central Luzon saying that what is happening now in the countryside is not an insurgency but a people's movement.

Address insurgency through poverty alleviation -- LCDE

By RANDY ANTONI, LCDE Advocacy Officer
May 23, 2006

LCDE giving relief goods to the affected families

TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte- A top official of a non-governmental organization here has raised concern over the intensifying armed conflict in the region and called on the government to address insurgency through poverty alleviation.

Jazmin Jerusalem, Executive Director of the Leyte Center for Development, Inc. (LCDE), said that they are alarmed over the intensifying clashes between government troops and the communist rebels as these affect the livelihood of the farmers.

"Due to the intense armed conflict in the region, many peasant communities are forced to flee their homes and sources of livelihood," she said. Jerusalem added that the poor situation of the affected communities aggravated after their displacement.

"This is very alarming considering the fact that they were already in economic difficulties even before the evacuation," she said.

Jerusalem issued this statement following the relief mission they conducted last May 19 in Brgy. (village) Calapi in Motiong, Western Samar where they served peasant families from three villages affected by armed conflict.

The LCDE is a non-governmental organization assisting natural and man-made disaster-stricken communities in Eastern Visayas.

Mass evacuation

More than a hundred families from the villages of Beri, San Andres and Sto. Ni�o in Motiong (about two-hour travel by bus from Tacloban City) were forced to descend from their barrios on March 6 and sought refuge in Brgy. Calapi.

The villagers had reasons to evacuate.

On the evening of March 5, a farmer in Brgy. San Andres identified as Noel Labong, was shot dead in front of his family by three unidentified men believed by the villagers to be soldiers.

According to the account of the victim's wife, it was about 9:00 p.m. when the assassins wearing bonnets and plain clothes barged into their house and dragged the victim out where he was shot on the head.

A villager testified that he saw a man in military uniform standing in front of the house of the victim just before the shooting incident.

Shortly after the murder of Noel, unidentified men abducted his brother Levi Labong. The victim remains missing to this day.

Prior to the killing and forced abduction in Brgy. San Andres, incidents of abuses had been reported in Brgy. Sto. Nino.

On March 2, a farmer identified as Antonio Mabilog, was beaten by three unidentified men while he and his wife were working on their farm. The suspects, clad in military uniform, were asking the victim to point to them where the communist rebels are camping.

On the same day, alleged soldiers set the house, owned by a certain Segundo Gabane, on fire. About 30 sacks of kalinayan, a good variety of upland rice, with an estimated market value of Php 24,000 were also burned down.

Although there were no direct witnesses, the villagers believed the arson was perpetrated by the military.

Village chief Alnario Gabane said they (villagers) reported to him that just before the incident, army troopers arrived in the barrio and headed to the direction where it happened.

In Brgy. Beri, residents reported that on February 23, they heard successive gunshots interspersed with big explosions coming from the forested area of the village; it lasted for about one minute.

More hardship

Gabane lamented that the situation of the affected villagers worsened after their displacement.

"The villagers are having more difficulties in meeting their daily needs, food especially, since they were not able to attend to their farms from March 6 until 23, the day they started returning to their barrios," he disclosed. He added that their newly grown crops were also destroyed by tropical storm "Caloy," which hit the region just two weeks ago.

To date, the majority of the villagers already returned to their communities after a certain Lt. Agoy ordered them to go back. About 15 families, however, opted to stay permanently in Brgy. Calapi and nearby barrios for fear of their lives.

Meanwhile, Roni Mabanan, village chief of Brgy. Beri, disclosed that those who refused to go back to their villages have become either tenants or farm workers.

"Before the evacuation, these villagers could at least get a daily income of more than a hundred pesos from tilling their own farms. As tenants, they now only get a daily income of more than Php 27 since they have to give the landowners 75 percent of their harvest as payment for land rent," he said.

Mabanan said that those who work as farm laborers are paid Php 50 a day, however, they do not have regular income since they are only hired during cropping season.

"To get additional income, some of them would offer their services to farmers such as helping the latter in delivering their produce to the market once or twice a week in which they are paid Php 30," he further said.

Economic security, not bullets

Jerusalem said that the armed conflict would only intensify and continue to devastate the lives of the peasant communities if the government continues to launch military offensives against the communist rebels instead of striking down the root cause of insurgency.

"The government could put an end to the long running armed conflict by addressing insurgency through poverty alleviation," she said.

She added, "The government should recognize the fact that there is insurgency because of social injustice and the inequitable distribution of economic resources in the country. It can only be solved by providing the poor long-term economic security," Jerusalem said.

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