Central Luzon NGO decries harassment on dev’t staff

Development workers from ABI lead the relief distribution in La Union, one of the provinces hit by the two recent typhoons. (Photo courtesy of ABI Facebook Page)
Development workers from ABI lead the relief distribution in La Union, one of the provinces hit by the two recent typhoons. (Photo courtesy of ABI Facebook Page)

A humanitarian NGO had to cancel its relief operations after threats from soldiers in the community.

By JONAS ALPASAN
Bulatlat

MANILA – A non-government agency involved in development and humanitarian work urged President Duterte and Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo to look into the harassment and threats against their staff, which forced them to cancel their relief operations in Nueva Vizcaya communities recently hit by two typhoons.

In its open letter addressed to Duterte and Taguiwalo, Alay Bayan Luson Inc. (ABI) said two of their development workers went to Pelaway village in Alfonso Castañeda, Nueva Vizcaya on Oct. 23 to prepare for relief delivery operations slated on Oct. 24.

However, en route to the village, the two ABI staff, whose names were withheld upon the request of the organization, learned that soldiers have encamped in the community for the past three months. Just before Typhoon Karen hit Central and Northern Luzon, the the leader of their local Disaster Preparedness Organization (DPO) was repeatedly invited to report to the military detachment and was told to bring the staff of ABI to them. Soldiers reportedly said they would await the visit of the ABI staff to subject them to “questioning.”

“We have decided with the CDRC (Citizen’s Disaster Risk Reduction Center) to cancel our relief delivery operations despite pleas from the Lipuga village chief and DPO members that they need it due to the destruction left by the last two typhoons on their crops and houses,” the open letter read.

ABI said they will not compromise the safety and lives of their development workers, who remain at risk even after soldiers have reportedly already left Pelaway, because others from a nearby military detachment still roam around.

The NGO alliance Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network in the Philippines (ASCENT) spokesperson Renmin Vizconde said that ABI, a member organization, has been involved in various humanitarian aid and disaster risk reduction programs in different parts of Central Luzon.

In a separate statement issued by the CDRC, the group said their regional partner in Central Luzon has a long history of harassment and red tagging by soldiers deployed in communities they serve. The worst was the killing of ABI executive director and Dutch missionary Willem Geertman by suspected military agents in 2012.

CDRC said that also there is a need to ensure the safety of the local members of the DPCs from further harassments.

The CDRC said, “as long as the military harassment looms as a threat, it cannot distribute to the Nueva Vizcaya communities much-needed relief assistance.” ()

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