“The air strikes and strafing in Sagada, Mt. Province have affected the livelihood source of the people – the forest, water sources and farms. The security of the people as well was endangered with their manner of operations.” – Cordillera Human Rights Alliance
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Human rights groups condemned the air strikes launched by state security forces in the Cordillera region, the latest of which took place in Sagada, Mountain Province last August 30.
According to the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), elements of the Philippine National Police and Philippine Air Force launched the air strikes and strafing within the Demang mountain ranges in Sagada August 30 in pursuit of the New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas. The operations started at around 8 a.m. and lasted until mid-afternoon of August 31.
The CHRA reported that the bombings affected the municipalities of Sagada, Besao, Sadanga and Bontoc in Mountain Province and Tubo, Abra. Indigenous peoples belonging to Fidelisan, Dallic and Bontoc tribes were affected as air strikes targeted the communal hunting grounds, forest area, coffee and swidden farms and watershed of the five municipalities.
Two attack helicopters were reportedly used in the operations. There are reports that elements of the 50th Infantry Battalion headed by a certain Col. Sibayan encamped at the Aguid Elementary School and the nearby covered court.
“We strongly remind the State security forces of the International Humanitarian Law provision underscoring that parties to an armed conflict should refrain from harming civilians and their properties,” Jude Baggo, CHRA secretary general, said. “The air strikes and strafing in Sagada, Mt. Province have affected the livelihood source of the people – the forest, water sources and farms. The security of the people as well was endangered with their manner of operations. They should be held accountable for the impact and damages on the people.”
The group said casualties have yet to be accounted and the cost of damage has yet to be assessed. The CHRA criticized PNP-Cordillera spokesman Police Supt. Davy Vicente Limmong for being quick saying that there was no collateral damage in the attack.
The CHRA said further that “the air strike and operations have left the affected communities reeling in fear and have put their daily livelihood activities on hold.”
The human rights group noted that this is the second incident of aerial strikes in the Cordillera. The first incident took place in Malibcong, Abra last May 31 which, the group said, caused psychological and emotional stress on the community.
The CHRA said the air strikes are part of the Aquino administration’s Operation Plan Bayanihan. “It has been called as a peace and development policy by the government but the people who suffer from it, refer to the policy as ‘panaglabsing ken didigra‘ (violation and destruction) policy. It is doubly enraging that the citizen’s hard-earned taxes are being used by the State against us. It should immediately be scrapped,” Baggo said.
In a separate statement, the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) demand the accountability of all state forces involved in the bombings in Mountain Province.
The CPA called on local officials of Mountain Province and the Cordillera and all peace-loving individuals and organizations to condemn the militarization and push for the resumption of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“The destruction of these poses serious economic impact to our indigenous communities, with the contamination of water sources and threat to food security. We fear that the bombs would hit pipelines supplying water to the communities like Mainit and Guinaang. The area has been historically, massively, and repeatedly bombed, indiscriminately fired at and the communities historically militarized resulting in various forms of human rights violations,” Abigal Anongos, CPA secretary general, said.
The CPA held President Benigno Aquino III, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, accountable for human rights violations in indigenous peoples’ territories, for the damage and destruction inflicted to the communities.
The group also blamed Oplan Bayanihan for the attacks. “We, the people, do not gain a single thing from all of these. We ask, how much was spent for the military operations in Sagada? How much exactly is national government spending for Oplan Bayanihan? How much discretionary fund and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was used? How much is a bullet? a bomb? an attack helicopter? aviation fuel? To think that indigenous peoples in the Cordillera and the rest of the country are historically marginalised and neglected, and to think that it is the people’s money and resources systematically corrupted and spent on senseless doings. These are the very resources used to kill people, destroy ancestral lands, communities, papayew, forests and watersheds. Is this the ‘tuwid na daan’ (straight path) so hyped up by President Benigno Aquino III?” Anongos said.