By Kimberlie Ngabit-Quitasol
BESAO, Mountain Province—Government soldiers occupying houses in Sitio Dandanac, Barangay Tamboan in Besao, Mountain Province are restricting the movement of village folk and causing fear among residents, a human rights fact-finding team said.
A community elder who spoke to the team Thursday, August 9, said the soldiers started occupying several houses in the community after a fire fight with the New People’s Army last month.
The elder requested not to be named due to fear of reprisals.
“The mere sight of the soldiers and their guns makes us feel uneasy and unsafe that we have become afraid to move around or even go to our rice fields,” the elder told the human rights team.
The elder said the soldiers has also required villagers to secure a “safety conduct pass” and government issued identification cards before being allowed to tend to their crops in their communal forest.
“It would be best if the soldiers would leave, but since it seems like that is not happening soon, we have to deal with our fear,” the elder said.
‘Community Service Program’
First Lieutenant Jade Gabino of the 81st Infantry Battallion of the Philippine Army said they were merely implementing security measures.
Gabino added they asked barangay officials for a list of residents whose farms are in the mountains and were given 72 names.
Those not in the list will be questioned, he added.
Gabino said they are not leaving anytime soon as their Community Service Program has yet to be concluded.
He said that the program was already approved through an executive order signed by the governor of Mountain Province.
He explained that soldiers will facilitate the implementation of local government programs such as medical missions, adding that some agencies are afraid to go to Dandanac due to the presence of armed groups.
Delayed harvest, delayed planting
Farmers interviewed by the human rights team said that soldiers demand presentation of identification cards or resident certificates before being allowed to go to their farms.
“We have no choice but to comply because we have to tend to our farms and bring home our harvest or the rains would damage them,” one of the farmers said. “We have to eat,” he added.
The farmers said their rice harvest was reduced by half because of the military’s presence in their village. They added that the next planting season might even be delayed as a result.
The Mountain Province Human Rights Advocates (MPHRA) said several Sitio Dandanac farmers have yet harvest rice due to the military operations.
Fr. Joseph Requino, MPHRA chairperson said that the “safety conduct pass” policy is meant to secure soldiers and not civilians.
He said villagers know each other and can easily identify outsiders while the soldiers could not.
The human rights fact-finding mission was held in time for the commemoration of International Indigenous Peoples Day 2018. #