“Now, we can hardly buy rice, we can’t even gather root crops for fear that soldiers might caught us,” — George, a lumad peasant in Magpet
By DANILDA L. FUSILERO
MAGPET, North Cotabato — “You’re prohibited to go to your farms within 40 days,” George (not his real name) recounted in the vernacular Lt. Bruno Hugo ordering them last July 17, a day after government troops and Communist rebels clashed in their village.
Hugo, commanding officer of the Philippine Army’s 57th IB Charlie Company, said in a news report that they consider Sitio Bantaan in Bagumbayan village an area “highly-influenced” by the New People’s Army (NPA).
Bantaan is adjacent to sitio (sub-village) Natutungan where George, alumad (indigenous) peasant, his wife and four children live.
He confirmed to davaotoday.com that Hugo issued such an “order” to the 59 families, mostly lumads, in the villages of Bagumbayan and Basak, this town.
These lumads were affected in the “military operations,” based on the report of the independent fact-finding mission (FFM) initiated by cause-oriented groups on August 1 to 2. The data gathered from the two villages prove there was a “standing order” by 57th IB soldiers for residents to refrain from their usual farming activities.
“They are like fishes in the pond drained of water,” said Bai Norma Capuyan of the Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato (ASLPC).
The FFM team has documented government troops distributing two to three cups of rice to every eight-member household in Bagumbayan village’s Sitio Natutungan and Bantaan.
“How could a family of eight members survive a day with three cups of rice?” asked Ruby Padilla-Sison of Gabriela.
A family of five needs a kilo of rice per meal or three kilos for a whole day’s meal.
Meanwhile, Capuyan shared the accounts of Nonoy (not his real name) who cried during their interview in Sitio Buay-buay, Basak village last Wednesday. “It’s painful for a father to have nothing to feed his family,” she said.
Nonoy, 31, has three children. He was among the community members interviewed during the two-day FFM led by the ASLPC, farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Cotabato, women’s group Gabriela, human rights group Karapatan, and children rights advocacy groups Kabiba and Children’s Rehabilitation Center.
“Now, we can hardly buy rice, we can’t even gather root crops for fear that soldiers might arrest us),” George told Davao Today.
With no other source of income, George finds it hard to buy even NFA rice which costs 45 to 48 pesos (USD 1.07-1.14) in the villages of Bagumbayan and Basak.
George said he usually produces four dozens of soft brooms from his Tahiti shrubs and 70 Kilograms of Lacatan bananas in a 15 day-harvesting cycle. In ordinary days, he earns more than PHP 1,500 (USD 35.7) within this period.
Existing farmgate buying price of Lacatan bananas is pegged at 13 pesos (USD 0.31) a kilo while a dozen of soft brooms is pegged at 200 pesos (USD 4.76).
Rubber tapping, soft broom-making and table banana production are among the major livelihood activities of residents in the villages of Bagumbayan and Basak.
Residents here, particularly those who work as rubber tappers, also complain that the restriction set by the military gravely affect their rubber latex production. Although some of them are conditionally-allowed to tap their rubber trees at daytime, they wanted to be able to do their work early dawn (before sunrise) so they can harvest more.
“This is a systematic way of starving the people,” Capuyan said.
Padilla scored the government troops’ “inhumane” treatment of the civilians. “They only give the people two options: either die from militarization or die from hunger,” she said.
She also questioned the legal basis of the 57th IB’s “order” restricting the community’s movement. Such, she pointed out, is a clear violation of the people’s constitutional rights for a living, a thing also enshrined in the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law signed by both the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
“Both the NPAs and the government troops are bound to respect this agreement,” Sison said.
In a news report, Col. Leopoldo Galon, head of the Eastern Mindanao Command’s Civil Relations Group, said that complaints should be filed at the Commission on Human Rights.
The FFM team called on concerned local government units in the said villages to act “fairly” on what they said are “grave violations of human rights” against the residents. This, as they have also received reports, that some village officials are also being used by the military to facilitate mediation or an amicable settlement between erring government soldiers and abused civilians.
“As a civilian authority, the village council or the village chairman should protect his constituents from abuse. Mediation or facilitation of amicable settlement is not at all times judicious,” Sison said. (Danilda L. Fusilero/davaotoday.com)