Farmers should not be treated as collateral damages of armed conflict – peasant group

By Reynard Magtoto

Amid the possible truce and resumption of the peace talks that Duterte unilaterally terminated in November 2017, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) raised its concern on the unending peasant killings and militarization of peasant communities.

“Farmers should not be treated as mere collateral damages or casualties of the armed conflict. Rural folks endure daily torment and cannot live in peace with the AFP practically living in civilian communities,” says Antonio Flores, secretary general of KMP.

The continuing AFP atrocities against farmers and indigenous people are not conducive for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) according to the peasant group.

KMP holds the GRP, Duterte and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) highly-accountable for the unending peasant killings. “The GRP should rein in the mercenary AFP that have been sowing terror and destruction in rural areas especially in peasant and indigenous communities.”

“A resumption of the peace talks would be beneficial in addressing the country’s socio-economic problems,” Flores said. “Any temporary truce or ceasefire of sort, however, would be disrespected and negated if the AFP, especially Philippine Army infantry battalions, remain encamped in peasant communities.”

“The situation is almost the same all over the country — when AFP units cannot go after the NPA, they would easily turn to farmers whom they would accuse as NPA members or supporters,” the KMP leader said. “Majority of the farmers, Lumad and peasant leaders killed were tagged or accused as NPA members.”

As peasants struggle with poverty, the peasants are more victimized in the goverment’s militarization according to Bert Autor of KMP’s chapter in Bicol region.

“Bullets and bombs are given in exchange for land and rice. Oplan Kapayapaan and Martial Law are the answers of the governmenr when peasants are expressing dissatisfaction. Violence is the response of the Duterte government to the grievances of the peasants,” Autor added.

Pull-out AFP troops from civilian communities

In the initial data of Karapatan – Bicol, 632 Human Rights Violations (HRVs) with a total of 4,914 victims were documented, 25 were killed (EJKs) and 34 were Political Prisoners (PPs) in the region. Almost all of them are farmers or families from the peasant sector. Other than these, leaders, organizers, and sympathizers who are subjected to trump-up charges and secretly harassed to silence them.

Throughout the region, the province of Masbate leads the number of victims of human rights violations.Harassment, torture and forced seizure of farmers in Albay and Sorsogon intensified. The barangays are also closely monitored by the deployed AFP troops.

“We’re not terrorists! We are activists! We are right to organize and express our situation and request,”said Autor who demands to pull-out AFP troops from civilian communities across the country.

Farmers in the agricultural communities of Sitio San Isidro, Purok 4 in Tungkong Mangga, San Jose Del Monte City in Bulacan have launched a petition signing to seek the removal of the 80th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) encamped in community.

The military arrived in the community on February 28, 2018 and have been conducting Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) operations under the command of a certain Sgt. Duenas. The farmers’ community is the target site of the intermodal depot and the last terminal of the multibillion train project MRT-7 by San Miguel Corporation.

In Batangas, the 1st IBPA of the Second Division of the Philippine Army is currently setting up camp near the protest camp-out of farmers and fisherfolks along the highway in Sitio Balakbakan, Barangay Laiya in San Juan town. The 1st IBPA is the same unit that came from Marawi. Farmers and fisherfolks maintain a protest camp because they have nowhere to go after their community was demolished in 2014 by real estate firm Laiya Development Corporation (LDC).

In July last year, private security guards of LDC opened fired at the protesting farmer and fisherfolk families. Some 300 residents in the area were displaced after real estate developer Federico Campos converted the fishing community into a private beach and eco-tourism resort.

In Mindanao, Martial Law is still in place and the military are killing farmers and Lumad like chickens. “We have documented 127 peasant victims of political killings. The actual figures could even go up to almost 200 nationwide, and majority of the incidents occurred during Martial Law,” Flores said.

In Agusan del Norte, Jose Unahan, a Higaonon Lumad farmer was shot dead on June 6, 2018 at around 8pm in Sitio Tagbakon, Brgy. Culit, Nasipit town. Unahan is leading his tribe’s struggle against the entry of large-scale mining and other extractive industries in their ancestral land.

Some 35 Lumad Higaonons families led by Datu Reynado Ayuma have evacuated from their community and fled to the capitol grounds after soldiers of the 58th IBPA occupied their homes and encamped at their tribal community in Sitio Camansi, Barangay Banglay, Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental.

An estimate of 150 indigenous people left their community last May 26 due to intense militarization and have set up camp at Lagonglong town proper last May 29 after days of trekking from the hinterlands. The residents suffered threats, harassment and intimidation from the military who accused them of being NPA supporters. It is the community’s sixth forced evacuation since 2015.

With the present situation of peasantry in the country under militarization, Flores questioned President Rodrigo Duterte if he knows and realizes the true meaning of peace. (BaretangBikolnon.com)

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