“Back off!” rights group tells NTF-ELCAC amid threats, harassment vs progressive partylists, communities in need of aid

Photo by Jonathan Cellona/ABS-CBN News

Rights group Karapatan scored the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) amid reports of threat, harassment of progressive partylists, as the election campaign begins in less than a week.

“Back off NTF-ELCAC! The terror-taggers and warmongers in the NTF-ELCAC are working double-time to discredit progressive partylists and non-government organizations, by blocking aid and relief in communities that are in dire need of help at this time,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

Elements of the provincial counterpart of the NTF-ELCAC attempted to sabotage the relief distribution, psychosocial session, and community kitchen at Brgy. Cabudburan, Calape, Bohol, led by Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) together with members of Lingap Gabriela and Children’s Rehabilitation Center.

The mission team, which has reserved a basketball court as venue of the mission through the help of local women’s organization Sabakan-Amihan (Sandigan sa Bol-anong Kababayen-ang Nag-uma ug Nanagat-SABAKAN-Calape), was forced to hold the mission elsewhere when around 20 combined elements of the Philippine Army and men in plainclothes, believed to be military agents, arrived ahead of them, and held their own relief operation.

A tarpaulin bearing Bohol governor Arthur Yap’s face and his program “Heart Caravan” and “Barug Bohol” relief operations was hung in the court, which, according to the residents, was a corn seeds and rice distribution activity. The barangay, in charge of the use of the court, were informed just a day before the activity.

“The intent to disrupt GWP’s mission was obvious. This is the handiwork of the provincial counterparts of the NTF-ELCAC, notorious in sabotaging medical and humanitarian missions done in the provinces, all because they were done by progressive organizations that have been consistently red-tagged,” Palabay said.

Liza Quirog, the head of Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) in Bohol, was seen present in the said distribution.

Unidentified men continued to do surveillance at GWP’s relief mission, taking pictures and stalking the participants within the vicinity of the house in the community. Sabakan also reported that the military continued to harass their members days after. Thirty-six soldiers of the 47th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army “visited” the house of one Sabakan member in Brgy. Cabudburan, Letlet Cabones, whom they accused of harbouring rebels.

Palabay said that these harassment has not only threatened the lives and security of individuals and groups tagged by the NTF-ELCAC, but also “stop activities and community efforts that push for livelihood and address their basic necessities.”

Also in January, volunteers and members of the Trinidad-Talibon Integrated Farmers Association (TTIFA) in Trinidad, Bohol were stopped from repairing the roofing of a rice mill owned by Farmers Development Center (FARDEC) located in Brgy. San Vicente, which was severely damaged by typhoon Odette last year.

Elements of the 47th IBPA, as well as former TTIFA members who are now collaborating with state forces, took turns in stopping the farmers from repairing the roof, saying any work in the rice mill is prohibited.

“It is outrageous that they would send soldiers and police just to stop a roof repair. Apparently, they were after the people who are working on the repair, and were there to make sure that the rice mill, a supposedly basic necessity in a community of farmers, will not re-operate,” said Palabay.

The local government of Trinidad under Mayor Judith Cajes, has denied FARDEC rice mill's application for a license to operate and ordered its closure in 2020, despite being a project that has benefitted the farmer’s community.

After much assertion, in between threats and harassment, the farmers were able to repair the roof of the rice mill. TTIFA members who volunteered to help fix the rice mill were also given GI sheets for the repair of their own homes.

“TTIFA and FARDEC are organizations that have pushed for community projects benefitting farmers and communities in the province. We strongly believe it was not merely an issue of non-compliance of requirements to operate. The PTF-ELCAC also has consistently red-tagged FARDEC, as well as the TTIFA, calling them communist fronts and NPA recruiters because of their staunch defense of the land they have occupied since the 1990s,” said Palabay.

Karapatan warned of more cases of harassment in the coming days.

“We call on communities and organizations to resist such dirty tactics of an overwhelmingly desperate regime, who are afraid of community initiatives and the bayanihan of people amid calamities, pandemic and crisis,” said Palabay.