Military bombings cause forcible evacuation, threats to communities – Karapatan

“President Duterte, you say and grieved that you have lost soldiers, but you are losing constituents as well – the majority of the poor people you have sworn to protect when you took oath as President. The peasants, the indigenous people, the urban poor and the many others in the countryside, are they not what constitute the majority of the Filipino people? Shouldn’t you also grieve for their loss and mourn with their families?” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, on the continuing attacks against the people, more recently in Malibcong, Abra and Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte.

“In the course of Duterte’s counter-insurgency programs supported by the US government and the military’s all-out-war, forty two (42) peasants, indigenous peoples, Moro, and workers have already been killed, thousands have already been displaced while many more have been the subject of threats, harassment and intimidation. President Duterte should rethink the direction he has taken because where he is headed is a bloody trail of continuing human rights violations – the same direction that Duterte’s predecessors took,” said Palabay. 

Continuous operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have caused the recent forcible evacuation of communities. 

On March 14, 2017, more than 300 individuals from Brgy. Hinimbangan, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte evacuated to the barangay’s elementary school after hearing a loud explosion followed by an exchange of gunshots, only to evacuate again the next day to a farther location in the municipal gymnasium in the town center of Kitcharao, six kilometers away from their community.  

On March 16, several residents who attempted to return to their community had to go back to the municipal gymnasium when the 29th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA) fired a cannon three times from their position in Camp Edward, situated at the neighboring town of Alegria, aimed at surrounding areas of Brgy. Hinimbangan.  

On March 18, at around 9am, the residents were able to slowly return home when 156 soldiers of the 29th IBPA left their community onboard five 6x6 army trucks the day before. The more than 300 residents returned successfully at around 1pm on the 18th but were again alarmed when at 4pm, they saw another batch of soldiers from the same unit arriving yet again in the community. Because of this, after having just returned to their community hours before, residents were forced to evacuate again back to the municipal gymnasium in Kitcharao in the evening. Soldiers of the 29th IBPA had been encamping in the community for 8 months starting September 2, 2016. 

On a separate incident on March 16, at least 56 families, including 200 children, were affected when the AFP’s 24th IBPA dropped at least 14 bombs in their community in Malibcong, Abra. The aerial strikes caused forest fires in the barangays of Lat-ey and Bangilo, damaged fields, endangered civilians and forced schools to suspend classes. The AFP released a statement insisting that the NPA caused the forest fires and subsequently denied the aerial strikes despite repeated testimonies from villagers that the military’s four (4) fighter jets circled the community and dropped bombs.  

On March 18, at around 9am, Abra-based Kabataan partylist members Joshua Gumatay and Antonio Ambalneg Jr. were abducted by elements of the 24th IBPA. They were forced to walk from one area to another and were interrogated for seven hours. The two minors were turned over to the local Department of Social Work and Development and to the town mayor after. As of this writing, military operations continue in Malibcong. 

Palabay added that “in Duterte’s repeated attempts to assure the police and the military, not only have they become trigger-happy, but have become fearless instigators of State terrorism.”

“Most especially, for a president who earlier claimed he understood the ideological foundations of armed conflicts in the country, he should move forward not with repression and state-sponsored terrorism, but with a decisiveness to root out and resolve the causes of unrest,” Palabay continued.  

“We call on the international community, along with the Filipino citizenry, to strongly denounce the attacks against communities and individuals in the series of bombings, political killings, and illegal arrests. There is a growing need to oppose such fascist attacks against the people, lest they continue with impunity,” concluded Palabay.