Stop military operations in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental - Karapatan

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemned the reported humanitarian crisis and human rights violations in Himamaylan town, Negros Occidental as a result of continuing military operations since October 6, 2022.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay cited reports from Karapatan-Negros on the indiscriminate bombings and strafing of the 94th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in the areas bordering the villages of Carabalan and Mahalang with artillery and machine gun fire, shooting at rivers, sugarcane fields and forest trees after clashes with the New People’s Army on October 6 and 8.  

Residents were evacuated, with the military setting up checkpoints and inspecting the identification papers of everyone passing through, essentially hamletting the communities, said Palabay.

The conditions are so stringent that even the rescue vehicles of local government units have been denied entry, she said. As a result, residents have gone hungry and children are in dire need of milk and diapers. A few villagers who were allowed to return to their homes to check on their livestock have found them slaughtered by the military troopers. Their belongings were likewise in disarray. In particular, the house of the Tabuy family, who had been repeatedly red-tagged by the military, has been ransacked, said Karapatan-Negros.

Starting October 9, the military declared a one-week lockdown, ordering everyone in the affected barangays to leave. The villages of Carabalan and Mahalang are now “no man’s lands,” with the Himamaylan City Social Welfare and Development Office declaring as many as 15,024 evacuees as of October 10. They represent almost 14% of Himamaylan’s population.

At least seven farmers were illegally arrested and tortured, and released only after barangay officials intervened on their behalf, according to initial reports. Ailing NPA leader Juanito Magbanua was likewise reportedly captured alive as hors de combat while taking refuge in a peasant’s hut, but was summarily executed. Karapatan-Negros has warned of more unreported violations as it has been difficult for information to filter out of the locked down areas which are virtually under martial law.

The Negros human rights group slammed the AFP’s overreaction to its encounter with the NPA, saying that the latter will likely be used as a pretext to build a military detachment in Barangay Carabalan. The hinterland areas of Himamaylan are rich in natural resources but populated by impoverished indigenous communities, farm workers, and peasants. Karapatan-Negros fears that the real motivation behind the unrelenting military operations in the upland villages of Himamaylan is to pave the way for the entry of corporate interests bent on exploiting the resource-rich area.

Palabay echoed Karapatan-Negros’ view that “the heightened military operations by the AFP will do nothing to address the roots of armed conflict.” She joined Karapatan-Negros in enjoining “all peace-loving citizens, church people and all sectors to stand by the citizens of Himamaylan” and demanding the immediate pull-out of military troops from the affected areas.