ACROSS THE REGION

SunStar Dumaguete Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Militants, AFP in ‘word war’ over human rights violations
By Edmund B. Sestoso

http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/dum/2008/04/23/news

MILITANTS and Philippine Army battalions are in a heightened “word war” over alleged human rights violations in the towns of Sta. Catalina and Siaton, particularly in Tamlang Valley and some major countryside areas in Negros Oriental.

The word war erupted when militant groups — Kapunungan Alang sa Gaymayng Mag-uuma sa Oriental Negros (Kaugmaon)-an affiliate of the nationwide Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Karapatan Human Rights Alliance in Central Visayas, and the Promotion of Church People’s Rights (PCPR) in Negros Oriental — demanded an immediate pullout of military troops owing to their widespread commission of human rights violations in the province.

In a recent press conference, the militants presented alleged victims of human rights violations committed by the military in their pursuit of New People’s Army (NPA) members.

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front.

Negros Island is host to the 11th, 15th, 78th, and 79th Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army.

Karapatan pointed out the cases range from grave threats, harassments, forced surrender, to abduction.

“Though there are a lot of cases left undocumented and are still on verification process, the figures already create a chilling effect on all concerned citizens, human rights advocates, and freedom-loving people,” the group stressed in the same press conference.

The group said it has initially found out that in Barangay Talalak in Sta. Catalina town alone, an estimated 127 peasants already left their farms and moved to far-flung areas due to intense militarization in the area and numerous military abuses.

In response, the newly installed commanding officer of the 79th Infantry Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Erwin Bernard Lim Neri, brushed aside allegations of human rights abuses against farmers and activists allegedly committed by his unit based in Poblacion 4, Siaton town.

“These alleged abuses are just mere fabrication,” Neri stressed. He further said this is the natural reaction of leftist organizations, which fear the “decline” of their influence in these areas after the military conducted teachings among local residents and farmers that exposed the lies peddled by the groups.

Joseph Lagorra of the PCPR said the reason behind the army’s presence in Negros is to suppress legitimate dissent of peasants and to protect the primary beneficiaries of the project under the Bio Fuels Act and the Mining Act of 1995

“A lot of people have finally realized that they are just being deceived and used to serve (the communist group’s) ends of toppling the government,” Neri said in a separate interview with the members of the media.

Neri assumed the post after Lieutenant Colonel Nestor Porlucas stepped down for a new assignment.

According to Lagorra, the militarization in the countryside under Oplan Bantay Laya 11 is engineered by the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in cahoots with the US government.

Karapatan also said the counter-insurgency program is poised to wipe out the nation’s insurgency problem, but in reality it resulted in the extensive crackdown of legitimate legal organizations.

Neri meanwhile assured that discipline in the unit’s ranks is non-negotiable.

He vowed to punish any soldier who will violate human rights especially because the main aim of the military in the area is not to promote violence but to help local government officials extend aid to the people in the rural areas and win their hearts and minds in behalf of the state.

In response to Neri, Lagorra said the military commander should have investigated the reports and not manipulated the real situation.

The militant leader challenged the military’s commanding officer to investigate and prove that the abuses were just fabricated.

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