Karapatan raises alarm over militarization of barangays

Human rights alliance Karapatan raised alarm over reports of military occupation of barangays in Manila and Batangas.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said, “We received reports that in Barangay 105, Tondo, also known as “Happyland,” some 90 to 100 soldiers allegedly from the 11th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army arrived on March 9, 2023 to conduct a so-called ‘community support program or CSP.’ It is military doublespeak for intelligence gathering, since the soldiers have done nothing so far that is supportive of the community, which is the most impoverished in Tondo.”

Palabay said the soldiers have been profiling the local residents to ascertain who among them are members of activist organizations. A woman community leader was asked, ‘GABRIELA ka ba? Anong katungkulan mo?’ The soldiers have also reportedly been going around, asking who among the local residents have been attending rallies, as if such were illegal,” added Palabay.

The soldiers are also reportedly on the manhunt for two mass leaders, father and son Enrique Lozada Sr. and Enrique Lozada Jr. of the Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Harbour Center.

Currently occupying civilian facilities such as the barangay hall, the soldiers are reportedly scouting for a place to rent. Said Palabay, “This indicates that the residents of Happyland will be enduring the soldiers’ menacing presence for a long time and will be subjected to red-tagging seminars and forced surrenders, as what has been happening in other militarized barangays.”

In Sto. Tomas, Batangas, a city less than an hour from Metro Manila, elements of the 59th IB arrived in Barangay San Isidro Sur on the morning of March 14, 2023, ostensibly to conduct a survey. Their arrival has alarmed residents, as the soldiers, who are wearing sidearms, have been going around asking for the personal information of local citizens. “The soldiers also took a picture of the president of the association of San Isidro Sur residents without his permission. The association has been campaigning for the barangay residents’ right to decent housing,” said Palabay, “after 17 houses were razed in 2020 and 2021, and agricultural lands with pineapple, coconut and fruit trees were paved to give way to the construction of the Malvar-Sto. Tomas Diversion Road.”

“The soldiers have also reportedly been asking about the presence of young boarders (“mga batang boarders”) in the area,” said Palabay. “This is cause for concern, since the soldiers may arbitrarily pick up any youth who happens to be renting a place in the barangay.”

The soldiers are reportedly based in the adjacent barangay of San Francisco and plan to set up a camp in that area. At least 30 members of the Sitio Maligaya Homeowners’ Association in San Isidro Sur have signed a letter of complaint to the 59th IB and the local government unit, demanding the pullout of the soldiers from their barangay.

“With many hinterland barangays already under virtual martial law, we now have the creeping militarization of barangays in ciry centers,” said Palabay. “This is alarming, since this shows that no one can feel safe in practicing their pro-people advocacies. We must push back to reclaim our rapidly shrinking democratic space and oppose rising repression.”

Meanwhile, Palabay also slammed the illegal arrest last March 7, 2023, of Arnel Bueza, former provincial coordinator of Anakpawis Partylist in Rizal province. Bueza, 43, was arrested at 12:30 a.m. in his home in Sitio Tibagan Extension, Barangay Dolores, Taytay, Rizal by more than 30 armed men who introduced themselves as elements of the 80th IB, CIDG and PDEA. Bueza is currently a Unit Commander of Aksyon, Disiplina, Lunas, a municipal organization directly under the Office of the Mayor in Taytay. He has been charged with a trumped-up case of attempted homicide in Sorsogon and violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

“Bueza’s community in Sitio Tibagan Extension was occupied by elements of the 80th IB after the May 2022 elections,” said Palabay. “The soldiers coerced the residents into disaffiliating from Anakpawis Partylist, a violation of their right to freedom of association.”