Fact-finding mission reveals HR violations in Las Navas barrios
By KATUNGOD-Northern Samar
August 9, 2006
CATARMAN, Northern Samar – Marlon Parani is barely 12 years old. His being a child, however, does not exempt him from being harassed by the military.
Parani was about to go to school on the morning of July 5 when two soldiers approached and forced him to admit that he knows of a certain Kumander Pigaw. When he denied the allegations, one of the soldiers threatened to kill him right on the spot and coerced him to go with them to the military camp.
His case was only one of the human rights violations documented by the fact-finding team organized by the small farmers’ organization PESANTE, and the human rights group KATUNGOD (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) in Northern Samar. The group conducted a fact-finding mission in the farming villages of Imelda, Quirino and San Francisco in Las Navas (a town in Northern Samar about 232 km away from Tacloban City) from July 24 to 28.
Harassment, physical assault
Jonathan Calades, Secretary-General of KATUNGOD-Northern Samar, described the human rights violations in the three communities as “grave” and “alarming.”
“We documented 55 cases of human rights violations with 288 victims. Considering that the mission covered only three barrios, this is already alarming,” he said. Calades added, “This figure does not even include those violations, which the victims refused to divulge to the fact-finding team for fear of possible reprisal.”
The fact-finding team documented cases of arbitrary detention, attempted killing, destruction of property, harassment and threat, involuntary disappearance, physical assault, strafing, torture and other violations. Of these violations, harassment and threat accounts for 26 cases with 26 victims, which included seven minors (13 years and below). Physical assault and attempted killing come next with 5 victims each. The violations, which affected 120 minors, happened between May and July this year.
The victims pinpointed the military elements belonging to the 63rd Infantry Battalion under the command of Col. Felemon Santos as the perpetrators. The military unit has its camp in Brgy. Opong in Catubig, a neighboring town of Las Navas.
Calades noted a rise in the number of human rights violations in the villages after government troops under the command of 2nd Lt. Tizon ran over an alleged NPA camp situated about 1 km away from Brgy. Imelda on July 6.
Fifty of the 55 violations were committed after the clash, according to Calades. Among these was the forced evacuation of 204 villagers in Brgy. Imelda and Brgy. Quirino, who told the team that they did it for fear that they might be the next target of military attack.
“The significant increase in the number of human rights violations after the clash showed the military’s brazen disrespect for human rights and international humanitarian laws. In their effort to stamp out insurgency, they also target civilians whom they suspect as NPA members or sympathizers,” he stressed.
Worse poverty situation
Although the rest of the residents in the three villages have not experienced the abuses themselves, the soldiers’ mere presence caused them anxiety and fear.
Mylene Ymata, Secretary-General of PESANTE, said the villagers’ fear of the military has disrupted their livelihood.
“The local folks revealed that many of them are now afraid to go out to their farm to
work. They are in constant fear that they might come across soldiers in combat operation. Consequently, their income dipped,” Ymata said. She added, “In normal situation, the villagers could at least earn a daily income of Php 77 from farming. Now, they could only earn between Php 40 to 50 a day.”
Ymata further said that those branded as NPA members had it worse.
She cited the case of the two Norcio families who were forced to leave their homes and farms in Brgy. Quirino after the military interrogated and accused them of being NPA members.
The victims are presently staying with their relatives in a nearby village. They make do with whatever support they get from their relatives and their small share from working on the latter’s farms.
More rights violations
Calades expressed alarm over the government’s all-out war against the communist rebels as this would take its toll on the poor civilians in the countryside.
“This move would only escalate the number of human rights violations and worsen the poverty situation of the peasant sector,” he said.
KATUNGOD-Eastern Visayas already recorded 42 cases of human rights violations with 4,203 victims from January to June 2006 in the region. The human rights group also recorded one case of harassment done against 3 progressive partylist and organizations.
Calades further said, “Instead of intensifying military operations in the countryside, the government should rather improve the delivery of basic social services to the peasant communities and concentrate on alleviating poverty which is the root cause of the long-running insurgency.”