Rights group score troops in Cagayan Valley for hampering work of human rights mission

Human rights groups composed of 49 members and volunteers of Karapatan, Taripnong, KAMP and the Children’s Rehabilitation Center, with an Australian volunteer, complained of harassment by government troops in Cagayan Valley.  The national fact-finding and relief mission was in response to the request to investigate military abuses in the province and to extend assistance to the victims’ families.

The human rights umbrella KARAPATAN scored the military and police for stalling the fact-finding mission. 

“The modus operandi of police and military to hinder fact-finding teams by holding them at checkpoints is an indication of guilt.  Why refuse a probe if they’re not hiding something sinister,” said Ruth Cervantes, KARAPATAN Public Information Officer.

The fifty-member fact-finding team was held thrice by the military and police at a checkpoint in the villages of Alcala, Lasam and Lanay in Cagayan early this afternoon.  The team started their journey at 9A.M. and were held four times from 10 to 20 minutes for every checkpoint and asked repeatedly for their names and papers. A certain police Chief Mallari and another police Chief Tubera as well as Lt. Bawayan and Lt. Lardizabal were responsible for the harassment of the human rights mission.

By 3 p.m., military personnel of the 21st Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) barred the team from proceeding to San Juan village, Rizal, Cagayan Valley.  They were asked to come out of their vehicles and sign their names. They were taken to the patrol base of the 21st IBPA in Sicalao village in Lasam town where they are forcing the Australian volunteer, Samuel Good, to give them his travel documents and to produce “a written permit from the Australian embassy” to join the mission in Cagayan Valley. 

“Human rights groups are being prevented from speaking to residents where there are reports of abuses by those who are supposed to protect them.  Is this the kind of democracy that the Arroyo regime is talking about?” said Cervantes who asserted that they only need to coordinate with civilian authority, not ask permission from the military for conducting fact-finding missions.

“Last time we checked, the constitution still says civilian supremacy shall reign over military authority. It seems President Arroyo has altogether taken this for granted as the military continues to carry their weight around both in rural and urban communities.”

KARAPATAN said that the AFP’s alibi regarding “on-going operations” that could “endanger the lives of fact-finding teams” and that they need to secure permission from the military to enter the communities is hogwash and only goes to show that there is a breakdown of civilian rule in the countryside.

“The only decent response for government and the top-brass is to investigate, prosecute and punish offenders, not block and persecute human rights workers." Cervantes said###