DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A human rights group called on President Rodrigo Duterte to “grieve for the majority of Filipinos” and not just for fallen soldiers.
“President Duterte, you say you grieved that you have lost soldiers, but you are losing constituents as well – the majority of the poor people you have sworn to protect when you took oath as President,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay in a statement on Monday, March 20.
“The peasants, the indigenous people, the urban poor and the many others in the countryside, are they not what constitute the majority of the Filipino people? Shouldn’t you also grieve for their loss and mourn with their families?” Palabay asked.
Palabay blamed the continued military operations in the hinterlands which resulted to the deaths of 42 peasants, indigenous peoples, Moro people, and workers while thousands have already been displaced from their communities.
“President Duterte should rethink the direction he has taken because where he is heading a bloody trail of continuing human rights violations – the same direction that Duterte’s predecessors took,” Palabay said.
Karapatan documented at least four cases of evacuations and one case of abduction in March alone.
On March 14, more than 300 individuals Hinimbangan, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte fled to a nearby elementary school after hearing a loud blast followed by a volley of gunfire. The residents again evacuated to the municipal hall of Kitcharao, six kilometers away from their community the next day.
Two days after, the same residents tried to go back to their communities fled again after soldiers from 29th Infantry Batallion, according to Karapatan, fired a cannon three times from their position in Camp Edward at the nearby town of Alegria to target the surrounding areas of Brgy. Hinimbangan.
On March 18, after successfully reentering their communities at 1:00 p.m, the families fled to Kitcharao again after seeing more soldiers from the 29th IB entered their community.
Karapatan also reported that, on the same day, in Abra, some 56 families including 200 children evacuated their homes in Malibcong, Abra after military troops of 24th IB allegedly launched an air strike in their communities, causing forest fires.
The military has since denied that they launched air strikes, but residents claim they saw the four fighter jets circle their communities before dropping the bombs.
Meanwhile, two youth activists in Abra were also abducted on March 18, two days after the air strike.
Karapatan said Abra-based Kabataan Partylist members Joshua Gumatay and Antonio Ambalneg, Jr. were abducted by members of the 24th IB and were tortured for seven hours before being turned over to the Department of Social Work and Development.
Palabay scored Duterte’s attempts to placate the police and the army, saying the security forces have become “trigger-happy” and “fearless instigators of state terrorism.”
“We call on the international community, along with the Filipino citizenry, to strongly denounce the attacks against communities and individuals in the series of bombings, political killings, and illegal arrests. There is a growing need to oppose such fascist attacks against the people, lest they continue with impunity,” Palabay said. (davaotoday.com)