AFP insists village encampment despite clamor for pull out

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LUBUAGAN, Kalinga  – After the dialogue between the villagers of Tanglag here and the elements of the Charlie Company, 50th Infantry Battalion on September 21, the soldiers insisted on their encampment. This is despite the resounding call of the community for them to move out.

Earlier in an interview with Punong Barangay Nestor Unday, the troop arrived in their village and stayed in his house on August 2 this year. The villagers immediately expressed their opposition to the encampment because the mere presence of the soldiers endangers the civilian population as they are prone for attack. On August 5, a community meeting was held and the villagers officially registered their clamor for the government troop to pull out.

MaricrisBanawag said in an interview that they pointed out that armed groups, including the AFP, should stay 500 meters away from the village. The elements of the Charlie Company headed by 2/Lt. John Rey Caumban negotiated for a two-week stay which the villagers allowed.. After two weeks, the soldiers refused to honor the agreement by staying on.

When the Punong Barangay and other barangay officials inquired at the battalion headquarters about the encampment on August 20,  Battalion Commander Gulliver Señeres told them that their troop will not pull out because they (the soldiers) will implement their three objectives which are recruitment of Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), Bayanihan, and neutralizing the community from the New People’s Army influence. According to Unday, the statement of Señeres sounds final and by hook or by crook, they will not move out.

On September 16, three women sent a community invitation letter addressed to Caumban at the 50th IB headquarters in Kapanikian, Pinukpuk, Kalinga requesting a meeting with him in Tanglag. Caumban did not honor the request. Despite the absence of Caumban, the community insisted on continuing the dialogue with the soldiers.

In a phone interview with Banawag, they villagers presented to the soldiers headed by Corporal Catalon their reasons why they want the troops out of their village. One of their reasons is the trauma that the community sustained from the numerous combat operations and military encampments in the past where their human rights were repeatedly violated.

Modesto Tongdo, one of the community leaders, also mentioned during the dialogue that there is no reason for the soldiers to stay. If the troop’s objective is to recruit for CAFGU, they do not want any of the residents to enlist for the CAFGU because experience shows that those in the CAFGU are used as shields during combat operations. He also pointed out that the Tanglag peoples have their own practices of Bayanihan and they did not request for the help of the soldiers.

Moreover, earlier on July 9, this year, a hunter was killed by the elements of the 50th IB in the nearby village of Se-et, Mabaka, Tanudan. This incident intensified their fear of the men in uniform, especially, that the perpetrators came from the same battalion where the presently encamped soldiers belong. Banawag said that most of the Tanglag men are hunters and with the encampment, the women always fear for the lives of their husbands whenever they go to the forest.

Today, Banawag laments that their movement and livelihood activities within their ancestral domain is constricted due to fear. She said they are disappointed of how their clamor has been discredited by the soldiers.

Banawag said that they felt disrespected because when they pointed out that it is unlawful for soldiers to encamp in civilian homes, Corporal Catalon retorted that it is only unlawful in the eyes of leftists like SaturOcampo. Banawag explained that as indigenous peoples, they have the right to self-determination which include whether or not they want the soldiers encamped in their village or not. “Nu met komaaniati decision mi ketrespetaren da,” (They should respect our collective decision for them to pull out) Banawag said.

Virginia Dammay, chairperson of Innabuyog, an alliance of women’s organization in the region condemns the military encampments in Tanglag and Uma of Lubuagan, Kalinga that has resulted to numerous human rights violations. “We are highly alarmed at the government troops’ disrespect of the community position for military pull out. It is an outright violation on the tribes’ collective rights to self-determination,” Dammay said.

It is an injustice she said that villagers who hold the rights over their ancestral domain are the ones pleading for the “visitors” (soldiers) to move out of their land.

By Alma B. Sinumlag

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