By Anjo Bacarisas of RMP-NMR
An international solidarity mission belies military claims that their troops are not in public facilities in the Banwaon-lumad populated villages in San Luis town, Agusan del Sur.
In a dialogue facilitated by Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte lat February 25, 2015, the commander of the 26th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army (26IB-PA), Lt. Col. Rolando Dumawa said their troops are not in barangay halls, daycare centers, and other public utilities in the area.
Military encamped near daycare centers
According to the mission report of the “The Balit Mission: An international journey in defense of the displaced Banwaons” conducted March 9, 2015 in the area, they found out that the military is using the barangay halls which are near the daycare centers as camps while conducting the Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD).
Sr. Ma. Famita Somogod and Sr. Francis Anover of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines believed the military’s presence in public facilities is tantamount to a military takeover of the civilian political structure in the area. Photo taken during the international solidarity mission dubbed as “The Balit Mission” on March 9, 2014 in San Luis, Agusan del Sur.
In an interview with village chieftain Roberto Ceno in Barangay Nuevo Trabaho, he confirmed the military is staying in their barangay hall and other public facilities for two months now.
In Barangay Policarpo, 2 kilometers way from Barangay Balit, residents admitted that the military has been using the barangay facilities as base camps amidst the denial of one of the village councilors.
The residents told that the military in the public facilities were fast to move away from the area while the international solidarity mission were approaching.
Meanwhile, San Luis Vice Mayor Jose Chua said he knows that the military is conducting COPD in the barangays but has no idea that they were using public facilities.
Chua also said there were no human rights violations in the area since he did not received any report about it.
However, four months ago village chieftain Necasio “Angis” Precioso, Sr. of Balit, San Luis, Agusan del Sur was shot to death by alleged agents of the 26thIB-PA after opposing the COPD in their village. Angis was a prominent environmental activist and Banwaon leader opposed to the entry of mining and logging operations in their ancestral domain.
In Article 10, Section 22(e) of Republic Act 7610, states that public infrastructures such as schools, hospitals and rural health units shall not be utilized for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots.
Sr. Mary Francis Anover, RSM, national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, said the encamped military in barangay halls and other public facilities invites threat to the community.
“In the guise of conducting census and consultations they are putting the lives of the civilians, especially the children in the community at risk,” Anover said.
Bishop Raul Amorcillo, Bishop of Iglesia Filipinia Independiente, Diocese of Bukidnon, said he observed during the mission that in the indigenous communities in Agusan del Sur Martial-law is present.
The contingent of “The Balit Mission” went to the main camp of the 26thIB-PA in Talacogon, Agusan del Sur, to confront their officials about the presence of their troops in public utilities.
Captain Soquera, logistics officer of the 26IB-PA, said the group should file a complaint and request for a dialogue so he can forward it to other high ranking officials.
During the confrontation, Soquera said Lt. Col. Dumawa was not around.
“The Balit Mission” is an offshoot of the increasing human rights violations in the area. The assassination of Precioso Sr. who was also a Banwaon datu and the evacuation of around 1000 individuals due to militarization prompted local and international organizations to collect facts about the situation of the Lumads.
Precioso Sr. was a human rights defender since 1995 against the entry of mining corporations in Agusan del Sur.
Meanwhile, the Banwaons in 14 communities in the hinterlands of San Luis municipality flee from their homes due to militarization guised as COPD.
The Banwaon datus of the said community were united that the COPD is intended to pave the way of large mining companies in their ancestral domain.
Most of the evacuees were women and children.
According to Community-Based Health Services (CBHS) in Northern Mindanao, as of last month around 40-percent of the evacuees have amoeba. Nine of them were diagnosed with Tuberculosis while common colds and flu were still the most prevalent cases in the evacuation site.
“The Balit Mission” also confirmed the records of Karapatan-Northern Mindanao Region (Karapatan-NMR) that there were 25 cases of threat, harassment and intimidation and two cases of extrajudicial killings in the area.
Three children already succumed to sickness in the evacuation site.
All in all, there were 93 cases of different human rights violations in San Luis, Agusan del Sur, due to COPD this year only.