Amid sham GRP ceasefire declaration, rights violations continue through Oplan Bayanihan - Karapatan

“Military operations in communities through Oplan Bayanihan and the consequent human rights violations that come with every operation continue. If President Rodrigo Duterte is indeed serious in his peace initiatives, he should rein in the Armed Forces of the Philippines from its vile efforts to sabotage the GRP and NDFP peacetalks, order his troops to pull out from the communities and abandon this counter-insurgency program. If these military operations continue, any ceasefire declaration from the GRP will be seen as a mere PR stunt,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General, said today as the organization continues to receive several reports on rights violations in line with Oplan Bayanihan. 

On August 21, 2016, immediately before the resumption of its peacetalks with the NDFP, the GRP, through Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, announced the “restoration” of the GRP’s unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-NPA-NDFP, with the same operational guidelines issued by the AFP and the Philippine National Police in July 2016. 

“These guidelines are defective and deceptive, as military operations in guise of peace and development and “Bayanihan activities” continue in the communities, rendering the said GRP ceasefire declaration a sham,” Palabay stated. 

Karapatan cited some of the reports below:

1. In Ragay and Del Gallego, Camarines Sur, not less than a hundred soldiers from  49th Infantry Battalion, 31st and 22nd Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army, occupied health centers, barangay halls and residents’ houses in the villages of Cabadisan, Panaytayan Nuevo, San Pablo, and Bagong Silang. According to Karapatan-Bicol, since July 26, soldiers have been coming in and out of said villages interrogating residents and conducting surveillance, asking each household whether residents have relatives who members of the New People’s Army and telling them to surrender. Soldiers also engage in their routinary activities such as gambling and drinking sprees. 

Jovita Argente, wife of political prisoner Ramon Argente, was harassed and interrogated by the soldiers. They took her picture and contact number. They also told her that should there be NPAs who would come and visit her, she should inform the soldiers. 

Bayan Muna members and couple Angel and Helen Mendoza were twice summoned by the soldiers for interrogation. 

Soldiers even set up fox holes at the barangay halls in case of an “NPA attack.” In Bagong Silang, soldiers also took pictures and thumbprints of residents to allegedly “clear their names.”

2. In Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, ten schools of the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (CLANS), providing education to 1,003 students, were forced to stop its operations due to continuous threats and harassment by the local government Mayor Abubacar Malauna, the police, and government agencies such as the Dept. of Education and Dept. of Social Work and Development. 

According to the Save Our Schools Network, on October 11, 2016, Mayor Maulana held a caravan to different villages in Palimbang spreading word that CLANS schools should be shut down. Tarpaulins and flyers were distributed, with the following texts (as translated from the Visayan language): “A small group known as CLANS is the first wave of deception in Palimbang. CLANS, along with schools operating under it in different areas in Palimbang, have no permit from the government. This school is not recognized by the Department of Education; it is fake and illegitimate. Everyone is encouraged to be vigilant against the school's activities. Let us stand as one Philippine nation, let us not be deceived by the communist ideology.”

Several residents of Brgy. Kidupong heard Mayor Maulana say that those who will surrender pictures of CLANS teachers to his municipal administrator will be rewarded with P5,000. Maulana even threatened the residents that CLANS teachers will only be given three warnings should they be caught teaching in the CLANS schools or else, they will be imprisoned. 

3. In Caraga region, at least 20 to 30 soldiers are deployed in each of the sixty-one (61) peasant and Lumad villages in fourteen (14) municipalities. According to Karapatan-Caraga, soldiers from the 30th, 29th, and 75th Infantry Battalions and the 3rd Special Forces of the Philippine Army harassed, threatened and conducted surveillance on the residents. They were forcing the residents to “surrender to the fold,” specifically targetting members of people’s organizations who participate in protest actions. Encamped in the communities, these soldiers conduct “census” in every household, looked for male residents, summoned the residents for barangay meetings and forced them to be part of so-called Bayanihan teams.  

“Residents in these communities say that military presence and activities in their communities bring fear in their daily lives, especially among children whose schooling were interrupted and teachers threatened by the soldiers,” Palabay said.

“Instead of hurriedly pursuing its obsession on a joint ceasefire declaration with the NDFP, the GRP should get its own reality check first if it can honor its own unilateral ceasefire declaration. Lest counter-insurgency programs like Oplan Bayanihan are junked, any unilateral ceasefire declaration of the Philippine government is empty and defective. To ensure that his peace initiatives are not jeopardized, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte should junk Oplan Bayanihan, a cause of unpeace in many struggling communities and grassroots organizations fighting for genuine change,” Palabay concluded.