TAGUM CITY — The team dispatched by Karapatan to unearth traces of alleged ‘indiscriminate’ military-led firings in Compostela Valley this week said it has become targets of the attacks itself.
Karapatan told DavaoToday that the military “was firing indiscriminately” at its quick response team on Thursday night, February 11, in Sitio Post 4, Barangay Napnapan, a shanty community in Pantukan, Compostela Valley province.
“We arrived by 2:30 pm at the checkpoint made by the 46th IB around 200 meters from the community. They kept on repeating the area was not safe for our entry,” Hanimay Suazo, spokesperson of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao said in a statement.
Suazo said that while the team was on its way to Sitio Post 4, Barangay Napnapan, sporadic gun shots were heard within the vicinity as if meant to caution them.
“We heard three loud gunshots. Some of us dropped down for cover, but we were surprised to see the military standing their ground, like nothing is happening,” she said. “It was in the second volley of shots that they told us to take cover by the side of the road, repeatedly saying that we would not be in danger.”
According to Suazo, an army trooper named “Fernandez” told them that he “could not vouch” for their safety should the group decides to enter the community. She believes that the “scenario was dubious one, as the soldiers did not stay alert to protect them or engage the direction where the shots were fired.”
“It was really meant to harass our team from entering the militarized community,” Suazo stressed, adding that “either it was staged, or they are just imbeciles who forgot who to conduct combat and protect civilians, or it could be both.”
Prior to the incident, the group paid a courtesy call to Hajarah Ranain-Divinagracia, vice-mayor of Pantukan, Compostela Valley. More than 30 individuals along with local officials took part in the mission to probe the incidents where army troopers of 46th Infantry Battalion implicated in “indiscriminate firing,” according to Karapatan.
“We cut short our mission owing to the possibility that we could be strafed by the 46th IB and charged us as collateral damage or, worst case scenario, tagged us NPA rebels. They had done it just this week, with Ronel Paas, a small scale miner whom they shot and killed, and maimed 14-year-old-boy, a gold flusher,” Karapatan said.
Karapatan has documented three cases of extra-judicial killings in the province. The human rights group demands the pullout of the army’s 46th Infantry Battalion and “hold those personnel accountable for the killing of Paas and wounding of three other civilians.”
Fresh extra-judicial killings
Among the latest victims of extrajudicial killings were Alejandro Laya-og, Jennifer Albacite and Ronel Paas—all staunch opponents of both mining and military operations in the area, said Karapatan.
Laya-og, 36, was gunned down on Sunday evening, February 7, at a bus terminal in Barangay Poblacion in Maragusan. He sustained two gun shots after a lone gunman peppered his body with bullets.
Citing accounts of Laya-og’s wife, the 25th IB stationed in Maragusan has accused Alejandro of being a supporter of the communist rebels.
The alleged sympathizer of the New People’s Army (NPA) was an active member of Kamama, a group Laya-og formed to protest the militarization in several villages. Karapatan said that Laya-og had been instrumental in the establishment of Salugpongan Community Learning Center, a tribal school in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
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On the other hand, Jennifer Albacite, 40, was shot dead by an unknown assailant on Tuesday, February 9 in Poblacion, Compostela Valley. Albacite’s sister, Jeannirose Porras, a staff member of the Compostela Farmers’ Association, believes she was the target of the assassination, a claim Karapatan calls as a case of “mistaken identity.”
The Compostela Farmers’ Association is opposing the entry of Agusan Petroleum Mining Company (AgPet) in their area. The peasant group said that the military tagged them as NPA supporters because of their vocal opposition to the mining company.
On the same day (February 9), Ronel Paas, 35, was gunned down in Sitio Diat, Sitio Post-4, Barangay. Napnapan, Pantukan. Paas sustained a bullet on his chest after army troopers from the “46th IB fired and bombed indiscriminately the community.”
Suazo said that all victims were gunned down in just a span of week. The killings, according to Suazo, underscores the “culture of impunity” that prevails in Compostela Valley.
Military intensifies operations
The military, on the other hand, said the clashes between the NPAs and government forces has claimed the lives of three soldiers and four troops wounded.
Captain Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division said two dead NPAs were left behind and that they captured an NPA “child soldier”.
“On February 11, three armed clashes happened in Pantukan, Compostela Valley Province (CVP) and Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental. The first and second encounters happened in Barangay Napnapan, Pantukan when a group of NPAs fired upon the Detachment of 5th CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA) Company, 72nd Infantry Battalion located at Sitio Riverside and when patrolling elements of 46th Infantry Battalion encountered the escaping NPAs led by alias Raden at Sitio Post 4 at 2:30 in the afternoon. No government forces was hurt in the said incidents while the NPAs withdrew towards different directions,” said Batchar.
He said the third incident happened around 1:40 in the afternoon, when the soldiers of 73rd Infantry Battalion engaged in a 35-minute firefight with the NPAs belonging to Guerilla Front 71 of Far South Mindanao Region (FSMR) at So Binaloy, Brgy Marabatuan, Jose Abad Santos.
Batchar said a soldier, identified as Corporal Joel Camus was hurt.
The fourth incident happened on February 12 at around 9:00 in the morning, when soldiers of Alpha Company, 67th Infantry Battalion at Sitio Km 28, Brgy Panansalan, Municipality of Compostela, CVP were fired upon by a group of NPAs triggering a 15-minute exchange of fires. The Army official said no soldier was hurt.
‘Valley of death’
Tagged as a “valley of death,” Suazo said that Compostela Valley province remains to be a breeding ground where anti-mining activists and community leaders perceived to be critical to the government are killed, if not harassed and vilified.
“There’s a bloody headcount of how many community leaders and anti-mining activists they can silence through militarization,” said Suazo.
She also hit the army’s Eastern Mindanao Command for claiming Paas and the 14-year old to be NPAs and for “denying their hand on the attacks of activists in Pantukan.”
“The military will make up these contrived truths of branding civilians as NPAs in order to escape criminal liability,” she said.
“These killings in Pantukan including Teresita Navacilla and frustrated murder on Alexander Josol add strength to our claim that the 46th IB is out to displace civilian communities, to pave way for large-scale mining in the area.”
In Southern Mindanao alone, Karapatan-SMR said that they documented 57 victims of extra-judicial killings since President Benigno Aquino rose to power.
“If there’s anything that this country is reminded of, it’s that Oplan Bayanihan is not the state fighting the NPA, but rather it is murdering its own people,” Suazo said. (davaotoday.com)