GRP unilateral ceasefire not conducive for just peace

In response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement that he will not order the Armed Forces of the Philippines to withdraw from civilian communities, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said “the problem is that there is no let-up in the harassment, threats and perpetuation of terror by soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in rural communities.” 
Karapatan recently reported that amidst the declared unilateral ceasefire of both parties, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), soldiers of the GRP are occupying health centers, barangay halls and even residents’ houses, disrupting the everyday lives, livelihood and schooling of residents of Ragay and Del Gallego Camarines Sur, and in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat. In Caraga region, GRP soldiers are forcing residents to “surrender to the fold” especially members of people’s organizations. 

Residents of Cawayan and Dimasalang municipalities in Masbate province have been living in fear since at least 20 soldiers started living in each barangay. “Everyday for a month, residents were summoned at the barangay hall one by one by soldiers to be interrogated. People were asked about their friends and family members in the New People’s Army (NPA),” Palabay reported. 

“In an incident, a soldier even pointed his gun at a resident of Dimasalang when the soldiers were not satisfied with resident’s response to their queries,” Palabay said. According to a Fact Finding Mission report of Karapatan-Bicol, children of Cawayan and Dimasalang are already afraid to go school because they are being interrogated by soldiers on their way to their classrooms each morning. Young male residents are being forced to become CAFGUs (Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit).

Soldiers of the 9th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army, currently deployed in Cawayan and Dimasalang, are particularly focusing on members of farmers’ organizations. One leader was even interrogated by a soldier and asked “Kailan ka nagbigay ng BKP?” (When did you teach the BKP?), referring to a certain course said to be given by communist party members to their new recruits.  This farmer, Melvin Ybanez, chair of Triple A Peasant Association, didn’t know what “BKP” was.

“Under this unilateral ceasefire, civilians are treated as suspected rebels and are subjected to interrogations, threats and harassment,” Palabay said. “With the disruption of their daily lives and the children’s schooling, with the constant patrol of soldiers in the houses at night, the unilateral ceasefire is failing to create a conducive condition for people to freely move, speak and discuss reforms in pursuance of the GRP’s formal peace talks with the NDFP,” Palabay said. 

“If military troops will not leave the communities alone and still pursue the counter-insurgency activities, people will still live in fear. If so, what is this GRP unilateral ceasefire for? It sure does not bring peace,” Palabay concluded. ###