State of War Displaces, Terrorizes Hundreds

May. 20, 2006

UCCP says soldiers desecrated churches in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur. Residents complain that they were used as guides by the soldiers in search of communist guerrillas. Military retorts that these allegations are mere insinuations.

By Cheryll D. Fiel and Grace S. Uddin

DAVAO CITY Karapatan, the human-rights group, has accused the Philippine military of committing atrocities against civilians in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, in the course of retaliatory operations against the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

According to Karapatan and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the military has imposed a curfew in Sta. Cruz, restricted the movement of the residents and workers, and harassed villagers by accusing them of being NPA members.

Early this week, Karapatan spokesman Kelly Delgado presented to the media some of the residents who were forced to flee due to the heavy military operations in their villages. The operations, he said, were in retaliation for the militarys recent skirmish with the communists.

Alfredo Tubale, a resident of Upper Langan, a hamlet in Sta. Cruz town, said his house was among those searched by soldiers in the guise of looking for wounded NPA guerrillas and firearms. “How could we have wounded rebels in our hands? We are not doctors, Tubale told repoters. The wounded are usually brought to hospitals so the military should be looking there instead.

Another resident, Torres Mohammad, said soldiers forced him to go with them in search for the wounded rebels.

Mohammad complained that the military had made up stories about him, which he said put his life in great danger. “They told me that someone in the neighborhood had told them that I was hiding wounded NPAs in my house,” Mohammad said.

Delgado said search operations where reported in the villages of Rizal, Sibulan, Astorga, Mililia, Sinoron and Zone 1 in Davao del Sur since May 4.

On May 6, the families of Mohammad and Tubale were among the hundreds of families that evacuated from their villages to another village, called Coronon, due to the militarys bombings the day before. “When we heard the bombings and explosions, we immediately fled,” Tubale said.

In one account, according to Karapatan, some 20 soldiers in full battle gear, their heads covered with bonnets, barged into several houses and looked for firearms and guerillas.

Karapatan also said that workers from Franklin Baker and Aries Investment who are working the night shift have been affected by the curfew implemented by the soldiers. Because of the four-day work week, workers usually tend to their farms to augment their incomes, but now, they avoid doing so out of fear, Delgado said.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines has also reported that churches in Sta. Cruz have been desecrated, allegedly by soldiers.

What shocked us was when we learned that a church of Lanahan, a local religious sect, in sitio Semento, and a local church of UCCP in sitio Tubison, both located in barangay Astorga were converted by the military as temporary military encampments without the consent of the chairman or lay evangelist, said the Reverend Wilmar Bongado, the conference minister of the UCCP in Southern Mindanao.

Residents, Bongado added, were forced to serve meals and water to the soldiers.

We deplore this blatant desecration of a sacred place of worship and we are appalled that this sacrilegious act is being perpetrated by the so-called defenders of peace and order, he said in a statement on Friday.

Bongado said the UCCP accompanied a mercy mission to the areas on May 17 and we saw the suffering of some 845 household and 4,225 individuals from seven barangays when they fled their farms and homes since the 1st week of this month.

The residents, he said, were literally under the direct control of the military. The military searched their houses and belongings, purportedly to look for arms and other items that would link them to the underground New People’s Army guerillas. The government soldiers also used some residents as guides in their actual search operations.

The residents have to seek permission from the military, Bongado said, so that they can be allowed to go their farms. Many of them feared of being mauled or abused by the soldiers and thus preferred to defer going to their farms.

Delgado said there were evacuations in the villages of Binuangon, Balat, Mailom, Langan and Kibarangan.

Tubale described his village as being in a state of war. As a president of the Parent Teachers Association of the local elementary school in Langan, he hoped that the situation be restored to normal in time for the opening of classes next month.

This recent incident, Tubale said, had brought back horrible memories of the 80s when they also evacuated several times due to military operations.

When asked of these incidents, Major Jose Maria Cuerpo II, spokesman of the militarys 5th Civil Relations Group, told that he was not surprised by the allegations from Karapatan and the villagers.

“These are rehash, mere insinuations from the human-rights group who always sees us as its enemies when we are only promoting peace and order in the area, he said. If these people claim that they are really for the people, they should condemn the NPA,” he added.

Karapatan, Cuerpo said, is doing this to muddle the military operations and reduce the pressure on the NPA brought on by the military’s combat operation.

He also pointed out that the military operations in the area were requested by the village leaders.

Karapatans Delgado, however, said that if indeed the village leaders requested the militarys presence, the soldiers should be looking for NPA guerrillas and spare civilians. “What they did was turn civilians into objects for reprisals and, hence, victims of their counter-insurgency operations,” Delgado said.

Delgado reminded Cuerpo that the Philippines is a signatory to various international human-rights instruments that govern conflicts and implement the rules in combat.

“This is not about defending the NPAs. This is about ensuring that human rights are respected during military operations, Delgado said. Besides, those victims who came to us complained that it is the military that was inflicting harm on them.

“If they indeed also for peace and order, why did they drop bombs on communities that sowed terror and fear among residents and destroyed their crops and properties? Why were families subjected to illegal searches and used the men as guides in their search operations?” he asked.

Delgado pointed that based on the interviews they conducted with the residents, the military, particularly under the 38th, 39th, 66th and 67th Infantry Battalions, are culpable of crimes of bombardment of communities, causing forcible evacuation in communities, illegal searches, food and economic blockades, as well as destruction and divestment of properties, which are punishable under the international humanitarian laws.

The UCCPs Bongado, meanwhile, urged authorities to remove these military encampments from our churches. We implore that the authorities facilitate the safe return of the nearly 1,000 families to their homes and farms-communities that are free from military control. (Cheryll D. Fiel and Grace S. Uddin/

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