They should have been reveling in Lucban, where townspeople are celebrating the famous Pahiyas festival in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. Instead, hundreds of protestors from various sectoral and rights organizations in Southern Tagalog, together with several rights abuse victims, trooped to Quezon City today to denounce the intensified counterinsurgency operations in South Quezon.
Toting makeshift fiesta banners made of bloodstained camouflage and yellow cloth, with a “defiled” Reyna Elena on the lead, protestors marched to the gate of the Department of National Defense, where they placed a real-life coffin surrounded by placards bearing names of rights abuse victims.
“The people have nothing to celebrate and everything to mourn, as intensified militarization continue to threaten their lives and livelihood,” Peter Gonzales, spokesperson of Task Force Stop Militarization, Save the People of Quezon, said.
The anti-militarization task force reported that an unprecedented total of eight battalions of the Philippine Army have been deployed in 22 towns covering 50 villages in South Quezon.
Counterinsurgency operations conducted by military and paramilitary forces under Oplan Bayanihan have resulted in further violations of human rights, Gonzales added.
Rights advocate Karapatan-Southern Tagalog have received reports of cases of intimidation, harassment, divestment of property, manhandling, illegal arrests and torture committed by government troops in the area. In March 2011, farmer Felix Balaston of Macalelon, Quezon was reportedly abducted by members of Philippine Army’s 85th Infantry Battalion (IB) and is missing up to now, the group said.
Meanwhile, Dondon Perez, a fisherman from San Andres, Quezon, was purportedly robbed of food, a boat and implements by members of the 74th IB.
Among the most recent victims of military abuse recorded by Karapatan-ST include Christopher Prieto, who was accused last May 9 by suspected government soldiers to be harboring firearms, and Genelyn Dichoso, who declined the P150,000 hush money offered by members of the 76th IB for her to refrain from filing a case in behalf of her niece Manilyn Caribot, who died in a crossfire between the 85th IB and the New People’s Army last April 29. Dichoso’s house was reportedly ransacked later by military men during Caribot’s funeral.
“The farmers are the ones who are hardest hit by the havoc wreaked by Oplan Bayanihan, which is disguised by the rhetoric of ‘peace and development’. In truth, there is neither peace nor development, not even a shadow of it, unless military troops are pulled out from the province,” Gonzales said.
Last May 13, the Armed Forces of the Philippines boasted that they have a clean human rights slate for the first four months of this year, saying that human rights violations cases filed at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) since July 2010 are unfounded and are mere accusations.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth. The victims who joined us here in protest disprove the official lie. It might be that the concept of respect for human rights escapes the military. Definitely, this is what they mean by a ‘clean human rights slate’—a zero regard for the same rights they swore to defend,” Gonzales said.
The protestors, after the program in front of DND, marched to the CHR to file charges against the military. They also held a caravan on their way to Sandiganbayan, where they conducted a candle lighting activity for rights abuse victims.
Photos courtesy of Southern Tagalog eXposure