Karapatan-Southern Mindanao fears that the defense budget would be used to bomb more communities, rather than to defend the country’s territorial defense against China’s incursion.
By DAWN CECILIA PEÑA
MANILA – Sometime in 2017, a helicopter passed by various Lumad communities in Compostela Valley. On that day, leaflets vilifying peasant groups rained from the sky. On other days, however, bombs are dropped, resulting in massive forced evacuations, where residents leave behind not only their homes but their livelihoods as well.
Human rights worker Jay Apiag, secretary general of Karapatan in Southern Mindanao, explained in an interview with Bulatlat, “The military would indiscriminately bomb communities they have tagged as supporters of the New People’s Army when they are merely engaging the government to fulfill its promise for genuine agrarian reform.”
Sadly, Apiag said he sees no end to this yet – not under the Duterte administration and its proposed 2020 budget.
Of the proposed P4.1 trillion National Expenditure Program for next year, some P388 billion was earmarked for the programs that, according to Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, would “enable the ‘kill, kill, kill’ mentality of the government.”
These include the Department of National Defense’s budget (P189 billion); Department of the Interior and Local Government’s anti-illegal drugs strategy (P110 million); conduct of intelligence and counterintelligence operations under the Philippine National Police (P1.1 billion); and police patrol operations and other related confidential activities against subversives, and crime syndicates (P142.5 billion).
Apart from this, P4.5 billion confidential and intelligence fund is allotted for the Office of the President in 2020.
“The 2020 proposed national budget is a war budget. It apparently wants to fund even more repression, the worsening state of impunity, while rewarding human rights violators,” Zarate said.
The Department of National Defense currently ranks fourth with the highest agency-specific budget allocations, beating the Department of Health and Department of Agriculture.
Apiag fears that the defense budget would be used to bomb more communities, rather than to defend the country’s territorial defense against China’s incursion.
The DND’ budget is significantly higher than last year’s budget, with at least P2.4-billion increase in its allocation.
Getting the lion’s share of the DND’s budget is the Philippine Army with P91 billion worth of resources, a stark contrast to the Philippine Navy’s P29 billion and the Philippine Air Forces’ P26 billion. The General Headquarters, on the other hand, is set to receive P37 billion to finance its projects in 2020.
This includes the P25 billion budget for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Act, which entitles the DND to acquire equipment.
A whopping P140 billion is allocated to the Philippine Air Force, while the Army’s allocation of P48 billion will reportedly be used for towed and self-propelled howitzers, multiple rocket launch rocket systems, ground mobility vehicles and light tanks.
Human rights violations
These upgrades do not only come with financial costs.
Human rights group Karapatan said there were nearly 370,000 victims of bombings across the country from July 2016 to July 2019, with 93 percent of incidents recorded in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, following the Marawi siege.
Apart from the displacement, the bombings have also affected the livelihoods of the people – as it destroys prime agricultural land.
For human rights defenders in Mindanao, the martial law rule for the past two years has made it difficult for them to document the bombings of Lumad communities. Apiag said the quick reaction teams that they have organized to personally check on the reported craters have been harassed by state security forces.
Stringent requirements such as the need for approved letters from their local government units have also made it difficult for them to enter these communities.
Why bomb Lumad communities?
Apiag said the military carries out bombings of Lumad communities to create a climate of fear that boils down to the quelling of their struggle for meaningful change. He maintained the military operations also pave way for the “swift entry of big developers.”
These include mono-crop plantations for banana and pineapple and foreign-owned mining corporations. Mines and Geosciences Bureau data showed that there are over 848,000 hectares with standing mining applications, with varying standing on their respective applications.
In the compound of the United Churches of Christ in Philippines in Haran, Davao City alone, Apiag said there remains more than 300 Lumad who could not return to their communities. Still, he added, hundreds are also in “Bakwit School” in the Visayas and here in Metro Manila.
Apiag reminded President Duterte that these are the same Lumad people he helped in the past. “This government accepted with open arms our peace agenda. We were hopeful that change will really come. But everything has changed now. Essentially, we were betrayed.” (With reports from Janess Ann J. Ellao)