Philippines: Soldiers preventing displaced indigenous villagers from harvesting crops

Philippines: Soldiers preventing displaced indigenous villagers from harvesting crops

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John Ahni Schertow
May 24, 2013
 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is warning that soldiers from the Philippine Army are “harassing and preventing indigenous villagers, who were displaced en masse last month due to an armed conflict, from getting access to their farms to harvest crops”.

According to the AHRC, the soldiers have imposed heavy restrictions on the villager’s movements under the pretext of ensuring their safety. “However, it is clear that their intentions are to repress them for not informing about the presence of rebels in their community,” says AHRC.

Describing the situation in detail, the AHRC observes:

“On April 18, 2013, soldiers attached to the 39th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, under the command of Lt. Col. Norman Zuniega, figured in an armed encounter with the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sitio Tah Canten, Malawanit, Magsaysay, Davao del Sur. A witness said that the soldiers allegedly used the villagers, namely Pedro Mandrial, Antonio Camag and Rey Mandrial, as their guides during the combat operation. The three villagers were last known to be in the military custody at the headquarters in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur.

“The fighting between the rebels and soldiers resulted in the displacement of about 57 households (249 persons) in Purok 7, Malawanit, Magsaysay, Davao del Sur. The villagers fear, as it commonly happens in remote villages where conflicts take place, that the soldiers would target them on the suspicion that they are either supporters or rebels.

“After this massive displacement, when some of the villagers attempted to return to cultivate their land and to harvest their crops in order to support their families the soldiers deliberately prevented them. The soldiers argued on pretext that it was to protect them because they might be caught in the crossfire between rebels and soldiers; however, even after the fighting ended the villagers were still refused permission to return home.

“For example, on April 21 at 11am, returning villager Maria Batawan and her son, Richard, were inside their house where soldiers who had just arrived and were descending from a military operation in the mountains, pointed their weapons at her. In her testimony written in Cebuano, she said her son, Richard, was also questioned.

“On April 22 at 7am, another villager, Arsenia Manipe and her children had approached the soldiers to allow them to return home to collect the 12 sacks of corn, 30 sacks of charcoal and to be able to cultivate their land, but the soldiers refused. They told Arsenia that if she goes, she could be caught in crossfire. The soldiers also told her that she and other villagers had lied to them that there are no rebels in their community.

“To address this problem, local NGOs on April 25 wrote to the town mayor, Jess Lumanog, requesting for a dialogue. However, their request was ignored because the mayor’s representatives choose to have a dialogue with the soldiers instead of the villagers who made the request. On April 26, when the villagers approached Mayor Lumanog they were unable to speak to him because he was inebriated.

“On April 29, a coalition of local NGOs conducted a Fact Finding, Relief and Psycho-social Mission and provided relief to the displaced indigenous villagers. They also submitted the initial findings of their mission but Mayor Lumanog was not in his office to receive it because he was busy campaigning for the election.”

In light of the ongoing military-imposed restrictions on the villagers, the AHRC is urging the international community to write letters to relevant authorities urging them to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the allegations of the villagers and to give orders to the soldiers to stop their repression.

Under no uncertain terms, everyone should be allowed to return to their villages, to access their farms and to harvest their crops.

Send a letter now: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-075-2013

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