Appeal for Action: Brgy. White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon in a state of martial law

On June 8-10, 2015, residents of Brgy. White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon in Mindanao held a protest action at the Kitaotao municipal hall demanding from the local government unit the distribution of the PhP 8 Million calamity fund intended for farmers affected by El Nino phenomenon. 

The LGU acceded to the residents’ demands, but municipal officials reportedly called up White Culaman Brgy. Captain Felipe Cabugnason informing him of his constituents’ actions. Since then, the military operations led by the 8th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) and the 23rd IBPA continue to this day, October 8, 2015. 
 
 
Cabugnason has also been instrumental in implementing military orders, especially the closure of the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School operated by the Mindanao Interfaith Service Inc. (MISFI). The barangay captain has set the deadline for the closure of the school on October 3 after he sent a “Memorandum” to MISFI dated October 1.  MISFI was given two days to close down voluntarily the school; otherwise the barangay council will do it. It is interesting to note that Cabugnason was a signatory in the school’s application for accreditation at the Department of Education. However, since the AFP arrived in Brgy. White Culaman, the village chief has been acting on orders of the military. 

On October 7, Cabugnason, with his men, went to the school and threatened to demolish it. The local office of the Department of Education however temporarily prevailed and prevented Cabugnason from implementing the closure, saying the MISFI school has complied with all the necessary requirements to continue operation. 

The military justifies the threat to close down the MISFI school by making up stories linking it to the New People’s Army. For example, when the military ransacked houses on August 27, 2015, the military claimed the school test papers and medicines they found were given by the NPA to MISFI.  

The military combat activities resulted in a series of human rights violations that has virtually placed Brgy. White Culaman under martial law. Some of the documented violations of human rights are:  hamletting, forcible evacuation, forced recruitment into Barangay Defense System (BDS), forced surrender, grave threat, harassment and intimidation, illegal seizure, occupation of school grounds for military purposes, illegal arrests, coercion, indiscriminate firing, and endangerment of civilians. 

Illegal arrests

On August 25, combined forces of the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) rounded up at least 15 civilians in Brgy. White Culaman, mostly leaders of peasants and Matigsalog-Lumad. The arrested civilians were leaders and participants of the protest action held early August. Among those arrested was Namabaw peasant organization Chairperson Ellen Manlimbaas. 

The 15 were first held at the barangay hall and on August 27, they were airlifted by two helicopters and brought to the Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in Malaybalay, Bukidnon for charges of rebellion. Two of the 15 were immediately released—one minor and a nursing mother. After almost a month of detention, the 13 detained were released upon dismissal of the rebellion charges against them. 

The day after the 15 were rounded-up, some residents left their homes for fear of being arrested on mere suspicion that they are members or supporters of the NPA. 

Hamletting 

Features of hamletting were documented in Brgy. White Culaman such as military control of people’s mobility in going in and out of their village. Starting August 25, soldiers constantly summoned residents, through Brgy. Capt. Cabugnason, at the barangay hall where they are encamped. Male residents were ordered to report daily to log in their whereabouts for monitoring. They were also directed to take turns in guarding the barangay hall at night, purportedly against NPA attacks. A number of residents’ homes were ransacked while they were in the barangay hall. 

Fake surrender

In a series of meetings, Bgy. Captain Cabugnason urged the male residents in Brgy. White Culaman to surrender and bring their firearms with them. Soldiers from the 8th IB and 23rd IB were present during the meetings. Cabugnason invoked a “list” of 67 individuals who would be arrested if they do not surrender. He kept telling the residents they are on the list. Some of the residents were ordered to sign “surrender” documents. 

In one of the meetings, on September 7,  the military read a document telling the residents “to surrender and return to the folds of the law”. The residents, fearing of being red-tagged signed the “surrender document.” Forcing residents to “surrender” to the military is also done outside of meetings called by the military. Some are compelled to “surrender” because of planted evidence. 

Lito Gawilan, a Lumad-Manobo, came from his farm and saw soldiers outside his house. The door of his house was forcibly opened and their things scattered on the floor. Lito went closer and saw a bag of nails strewn all over the front door.  The soldiers said the nails were components of explosives thus, he was immediately given a pen and ordered to sign a “surrender” document. Caught unprepared and out of fear, Gawilan signed the document, although they don’t own the nails.  

Forced recruitment into the Barangay Defense System (BDS)

On August 28, farmer Gaudencio Indao was brought to the soldiers’ camp in the barangay hall. The military accused Indao of being a member of the NPA. Despite Indao’s repeated explanation, he was coerced to sign papers saying he was a former rebel who has surrendered. The military also took photos of him. The soldiers then tasked Indao to be one of the BDS leaders. He was also asked to help the military when they close down the MISFI school. 

During the same meeting called by the military on September 7,  the male members of the community were forcibly recruited into the BDS and were compelled to serve as night guards supposedly to repel NPA attacks. Despite the residents’ opposition—saying they do not want to become pawns against the NPA—the military insisted. The military argued that those who will miss their duty as guards will be considered NPA members. The residents were also instructed to collect among those on duty Php 5 for coffee. 

Forced evacuation

On August 29, around 30 families or 180 individuals evacuated from Brgy. White Culaman. The majority of those who were forced to leave their homes were those said to be on the military list of NPA members/supporters who should surrender or face arrest. The almost 200 individuals are now in a parish chapel in Arakan, North Cotabato. They left their communities in the middle of the harvest season. 

On September 15, another batch of evacuees went to the parish chapel in Arakan to seek shelter after the barangay captain ordered the residents to hold a protest march on September 21 against NPA presence in the community. Again, the barangay captain said those who refuse will be considered NPA members, and thus will face arrests.

FFM participants harassed 

On September 17, residents of Brgy. White Culaman, on orders of the military, blocked the participants of a fact-finding mission (FFM) tasked to investigate and document the extent of human rights abuses on Brgy. White Culaman. The team was composed of 200 members of faith-based institutions, human rights and people’s organizations. 

The military, upon seeing the participants of the FFM, gathered the people in the community and instructed them to put up a barricade and not to allow staff members of Karapatan to pass through. While the people gathered, a team of soldiers went to the elevated side of the road and hid behind banana trees. They readied their guns and aimed at the mission participants. Some of the soldiers were behind the residents who were ordered to block the FFM. 

Three soldiers acted as spokespersons. One of the soldiers told the FFM participants they would only allow the leaders of the group to pass through if they bring out Isidro Indao, Marlene Indao, and Claro Gawilan. The three earlier left the community for fear of being arrested. 

In the afternoon, the soldiers allowed two female pastors and a woman tribal leader to talk to Brgy. Captain Cabugnason.  The members of the FFM resolved to take up the matter with the concerned local government unit.  

There are more incidents of military abuses and rights violations reported after this, but have to be validated and documented.  ### 

Recommended Action:

Send letters, emails or fax messages calling for:
1. The immediate pull-out of 8th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and the 23rd IBPA from Barangay White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon. 
2. The formation of an independent investigation composed of representatives of human rights groups, churches, local government, and the Commission on Human Rights that will look into the series of human rights violations in Brgy. White Culaman. 
3. The immediate prosecution of the soldiers and Brgy. Capt. Felipe for the series of violations;
4. The Philippine Government to withdraw its counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, which victimizes innocent and unarmed civilians.
5. The Philippine Government to be reminded that it is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that it is also a party to all the major Human Rights instruments, thus it is bound to observe all of these instruments’ provisions.

You may send your communication to:

H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III
President of the Republic
Malacañang Palace,
JP Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila Philippines
Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80
Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968
E-mail: op@president.gov.ph

Sec. Teresita Quintos-Deles
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)
7th Floor Agustin Building I
Emerald Avenue
Pasig City 1605
Voice:+63 (2) 636 0701 to 066
Fax:+63 (2) 638 2216
stqd.papp@opapp.gov.ph

Ret. Lt. Gen. Voltaire T. Gazmin
Secretary, Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Building, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo,
E. de los Santos Avenue, Quezon City
Voice:+63(2) 911-6193 / 911-0488 / 982-5600
Fax:+63(2) 982-5600
Email: osnd@philonline.com, dnd.opla@gmail.com

Atty. Leila De Lima
Secretary, Department of Justice
Padre Faura St., Manila
Direct Line 521-1908 
Trunkline  523-84-81 loc.211/214
Fax: (+632) 523-9548
Email:  lmdelima@doj.gov.ph, lmdelima.doj@gmail.com
lmdelima.doj@gmail.com

Hon. Jose Luis Martin Gascon
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., UP Complex 
Commonwealth Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Voice: (+632) 928-5655, (+632) 926-6188
Fax: (+632) 929 0102
E-mail: comsec@chr.gov.ph
 

Please send us a copy of your email/mail/fax to the above-named government officials, to our address below.
URGENT ACTION Prepared by:
KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights
National Office
2/F Erythrina Bldg., #1 Maaralin cor Matatag Sts.,
Brgy. Central, Diliman, Quezon City 1100 PHILIPPINES
Voice/Fax: (+632) 435 4146
Email: urgentaction@karapatan.org
Website: www.karapatan.org