“We will not let it happen just like that. Justice must be served.” – UP President Alfredo Pascual
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA –Three community development students of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman were in Porac, Pampanga to learn about the lives of the Aeta community. They did not expect they would be tagged as New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas for doing so.
Since December, Rafael Antonio Dulce, 25; Marie Gold Villar, 23; and another student who refused to be identified were at the Katutubo village or Tent City in Porac, Pampanga conducting field work as part of their academic requirement. The village is a relocation site where Aetas have lived after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.
On January 21, at around12:00 noon, the three students were trekking the mountains going to barangay Camias where they were invited by barangay officials to attend the town fiesta. On their way, a man in civilian clothes called out the group. The man, who introduced himself as Paul from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Region 3 office asked for Villar’s name and started interrogating her. Three more men in civilian clothes came towards them, said Dulce.
The men, said Dulce, kept on asking questions. Dulce then explained the objectives of their integration at the Katutubo village and that they were invited by barangay officials in Camias to visit their community. “Then their line of questioning became different and suddenly they were accusing us of being members of the NPA,” Dulce said during a press conference, Jan. 26.
Dulce texted their colleague who stayed at the Katutubo village, saying that they were being harassed. It was then that a man who introduced himself as Chris started pushing him and challenged him to a fistfight. “He started pushing me and threw out invectives at me. I almost fell because he was pushing me toward the ridge,” Dulce recalled.
The man whom they knew as Chris told the students to stand under the heat of the sun for about one hour. “They were cursing us, shouting at us and accusing us of being NPA guerillas. Another soldier took pictures of me and Marie Gold (Villar) and they tried to get my bag,” said Dulce.
An Aeta passed by and tried to help Dulce’s group but was told to leave. “Then Marie Gold started to break down because of fear,” Dulce said. Then the men let them go, but not before asking for Villar’s cellphone number. According to Dulce, the man who introduced himself as Paul continues to text Villar asking the latter to meet up with him.
Dulce said that a six-by-six military truck passed by while they were being interrogated. Dulce said he then thought about dying. “I thought that our faces would be next in those posters (like Karen and Sherlyn),” said Dulce.
The students reported the incident to the local officials at the Katutubo village. They were told that the men were soldiers of the 70th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army who have set up a detachment at the area.
“It is part of our requirement to integrate with the community to practice our skills as future community development workers,” said Dulce. “It was a horrifying experience but it only strengthens my resolve to continue with my advocacy,” Dulce, who is also the vice chairman of Anakbayan added.
UP President Alfredo Pascual condemned the harassment of the three UP students. “We will not let it happen just like that. Justice must be served,” Pascual said during the press conference.
Maria Kristina Conti,UP Student Regent, decried the persecution of UP students who went to the countryside to practice their courses and of students who have chosen to serve the masses.
“Community work is part of our requirement here in the University. In fact it is not only the College of Social Work and Community Development that requires integration with the community be it in the countryside or urban areas. The College of Medicine, for example, also requires its students to go to the community for medical work,” Conti said.
Conti cited the case of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño who were abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan on June 26, 2006. Empeño is a Sociology student and Cadapan, on the other hand, is a varsity scholar of the UP College of Human Kinetics.
Aside from Cadapan and Empeño, Conti also stated cases of UP students Maricon Montajes and Ericson Acosta who were illegally arrested while doing community work and are now detained in Batangas and Samar respectively.
In a separate statement, Anakbayan slammed the Armed Forces of the Philippines for tagging as ‘terrorists’ and ‘NPAs’ anyone who questions government policies and programs, as well as anyone who tries to assist the rural and urban poor.
“It is programs like that of the Dept. of Community Development which continues to make UP relevant in understanding and addressing Philippine social problems. Yet the AFP itself is directing its violence against such programs. The military has clearly shown that it is anti-development and anti-peace,” Anakbayan said.
“But we will not be discouraged. We will still be of service to the people,” said Conti.
Hunt down Palparan
The UP community has also called on the people to surface Major General Jovito Palparan to give justice to missing UP students Empeño and Cadapan and all victims of human rights violations.
“We are 50,000 students scattered in different parts of the country and we will help in hunting down Palparan and bring him to jail,” Conti said.
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino appealed to the government to act and use all its resources to find Palparan. “The President showed how fast he acted on the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona. He can do the same to immediately investigate and put an end to human rights violations and impunity. If the government has the political will, then they should command different government agencies to find Palparan and other human rights violators,” Palatino said