International Solidarity Mission: A Journey of Solidarity in Defense of the People Resisting Oppression In Southern Mindanao

May. 28, 2009

International Solidarity Mission:

A Journey of Solidarity in Defense of the People Resisting Oppression In Southern Mindanao

May 14 to 19, 2009

Secretariat: Exodus for Justice and Peace

Tel No: 082-221-6920, Mobile: 0928-6059209


      • Summary of ISM findings and recommendations

May 18, 2009

We — party-list lawmakers, peace advocates, human rights activists, students, and health professionals–participated in the three-day International Solidarity Mission (ISM) held in the areas of New Bataan, Compostela and Monkayo towns in Compostela Valley province; Paquibato district in Davao City; Sta. Cruz town in Davao del Sur; and Tampakan, South Cotabato.

The ISM, composed of 350 participants saw the grave repercussions of the counter-insurgency operations implemented by the 10th Infantry Division of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the region. The intensity, scope and strategy of Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL- 2) reverberates in the testimonies of the victims of extra-judicial killings, assault, torture and curtailment of fundamental civil and political rights to free movement, free association and free speech of civilians in the aforementioned conflict areas. We heard from the children their harrowing experiences and their continuing trauma as militarization and dislocation affect their communities. Complementing, if not aggravating, the ill-effects of the pattern of unsolved killings of civilians is the fact that law enforcement and prosecution institutions remain largely inutile and are a failure in the attainment of justice for the victims.

The number of extra-judicial killings in the region has not declined in the last eight years, but had in fact increased with a total of 100. In the year 2001, only four were listed, by the end of 2008, 17 were listed. Between the years 2001-2006, the number of extra-judicial killings posted 11 victims a year. From April 2006 to April 2009, there was an average of 16 cases of extra-judicial killings. An average of 100 individuals per day was listed as victims of human rights abuses in Southern Mindanao in a study of the 11-month period last year.

Revealing Military Documents

Military documents obtained by the ISM reveal the AFP’s intent to tag civilians and progressive groups as non-military targets in its counter-insurgency operations.

In the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) powerpoint presentation which contained the 10th ID’s Holistic approach in dismantling guerilla front committees, a list of priority tasks includes the employment of so-called Special Counter-Urban Terrorist (SCOUT) Teams to operate in the urban centers that are to be composed of the police, military intelligence battalion (MIB), and military intelligence group 11 (MIG 11) operatives. Their task is to prevent the CT’s expansion into the urban centers.

Another essential element under the Brigade is the SOT squad which was tasked to conduct psychological warfare in the areas, dismantle of the so-called communist politico-military infrastructures and establish local security. The SOT squads are responsible for rounding up civilians in the areas, profiling residents, harassing identified local leaders, and eventually putting up of the BDS.

The RPOC briefing also elaborates the SCOUT’s role in the Clear phase of the Clear-Hold-Consolidate-Develop strategy of the OBL-2. Its tasks, among others, is to neutralize political cadres, dismantle the CTM infrastructures established in the urban area, and form counter-organizations to sustain security efforts. These are clearly terms to describe the series of intimidation, threats and coercion by intelligence elements on union leaders and members in Compostela.

Thus, the alarming rate of killings in Southern Mindanao comes as no coincidence. Extrajudicial killings are being implemented consistent to the national policy of physically eliminating perceived enemies of the state, regardless of their political affiliation.

The pattern and manner of extra-judicial killings were executed with military precision. It is also apparent that the said acts are within the power and jurisdiction of the SCOUT teams.

A separate powerpoint presentation entitled SOT Briefing for the 100st Brigade of the 10th ID reveals that the military is indeed behind the coercion, harassment, and formation of anti-union workers organizations such as the WIPER. In New Bataan, 19 SOTs are also operating in the 14 barangays.

Weak and inutile institutions for law enforcement, prosecution and justice

We listened to the testimonies of mothers, spouses, orphans, and families of the victims of extra-judicial killings in these areas. Rebelyn Pitao, Danilo Pitao, Celso Pojas, Danilo Cualbar, Ludenio Monzon, Maximo Baranda and Eliezer Billanes are among the 100 cases of political killings in the region. The local police authorities view these deaths as mere statistics in the list of unsolved crimes in the region. Prior to their brutal deaths, these victims went through the same pattern of heavy surveillance, threats and intimidation by intelligence operatives and soldiers.

Police authorities looking into these killings cannot provide decent information as to the progress of their investigation. The Task Force Pojas created by the Davao City Police Office dismissed any angle of political killing and attributed Celso’s death to a land dispute. Task Force Rebelyn, likewise, carried the same argument and directed their investigation mainly on Rebelyn’s father, the New People’s Army’s Ka Parago. We find it disturbing that instead of taking off from the progress made by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on the culpability of the 12 military intelligence operatives suspected of carrying out Rebelyn’s rape, torture and killing, TF Rebelyn has concentrated on looking for Ka Parago’s purported enemies. The CHR hearing, high profile as it was, failed to surface the faces of the military intelligence operatives identified by the family and the NPA as suspects.

The extra-judicial killings in Southern Mindanao occurred almost monthly since the year 2007. Ironically, as the ISM medical services and documentation were in progress in Compostela town, banana plantation union leader Liza Alo was the target of a failed ambush. The slay attempt was a glaring indication of how armed elements most likely affiliated and backed by the 66th IB and the 1001st Brigade of the 10th ID rule Compostela under a climate of impunity, supplanting local civilian authorities.

Undermining civilian supremacy through the Barangay Defense System

We saw the impact of the creation of the Barangay Defense Systems (BDS) on local governance, on the residents and on the over-all peace and order situation in these areas. On the whole, the military has taken over and transformed New Bataan town as a military garrison undermining civilian supremacy in this 2nd class municipality. The farflung rural town with a population of less than 50,000 in 16 barangays, is practically a military camp manned by around 300 soldiers belonging to the 66th IB with its headquarters near the school. We saw New Bataan full of highway and road checkpoints, BDS structures and outposts (one in every 3 puroks), soldiers encamped in barangay halls, health centers, public elementary schools and at the Catholic parish, while sack posters reviling Karapatan (e.g.,as lawyers for the CPP) and progressive partylist groups were visible along the highway and access roads. Out of the 16 barangays, 15 barangays have BDS structures.

We interviewed residents regarding the series of human rights violations and the escalation of killings in the area. Local government officials sought by the ISM could not give any information because no complaints were formally lodged by the victims while the local police did not have any updates on the previous cases of the killings. The military officials interviewed by the ISM denied having formed the BDS, a declaration refuted by residents during on-the-spot interviews with them in Barangay Kahayag. Five to seven civilians, including women and children comprise each BDS team and work as BDS outpost guards in 12-hour shifts. Since November 2008, the soldiers have used the barangay hall for their own purposes, and even barangay officials have stopped using the same to give way to soldiers who use their facilities.

It came not as a surprise to us that as local government authorities cannot give direct answers and appear tight-lipped, civilians and victims of human rights violations were afraid to speak out and give their side to the ISM. New Bataan already accounts for five victims of extra-judicial killings, various cases of threats and intimidation and civilian dislocation. One incident includes Grecil Buya, a nine-year old girl killed during an encounter between the NPA and the military and who was tagged by the latter as a child warrior brandishing an armalite rifle.

In Sta. Cruz town, Davao del Sur, residents of barangay Zone 1 who were forced to become officers of the BDS organized by the 39th IB recounted their confusion as to the relevance of the BDS. Various human rights violations occurred in the formation of the BDS and its operations in the town.

It is fortunate that Davao del Sur Gov. Douglas Cagas took note of the complaints of infringement of civilian rights in the formation of the BDS and has since ordered its recall. Even so, the 39th IB continues to assert its formation. As the ISM was in progress, a soldier of the 39th IB intimidated a barangay tanod who took charge of the technical and logistical needs of the ISM by accusing him that the ISM failed to ask permission from the Army.

Usurping workers unions and curtailing freedom to join and maintain people’s association

In Compostela, where five unions are affiliated with the National Federation of Labor Unions-Kilusang Mayo Union (NAFLU-KMU), workers told the ISM of the harassment and active campaigning for disaffiliation by the WIPER (Workers for Industrial Peace and Economic Reforms).

In nearly two decades, workers unions in Compostela have been active in campaigning for wage increases, the formation of their unions with the cooperativization of banana plantations through contract growing schemes, and the protection of workers against unfair labor practices and union busting. As these unions have developed to become militant associations of workers active in Collective Bargaining negotiations, union leaders have been tagged as NPA sympathizers and supporters. The WIPER had conducted seminars, distributed flyers encouraging workers to disaffiliate from the NAFLU-KMU and to affiliate with other moderate workers federation.

Workers interviewed by the mission said the WIPER visited the packing plants, conducted forums and presented videos persuading them to disaffiliate their unions from NAFLU-KMU since it was allegedly a front of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army. The video reportedly tells a story about workers being recruited to KMU but were later recruited to join the NPA. In one incident, the WIPER representatives entered a union assembly and presented their anti-KMU propaganda. The WIPER have claimed that they are either government or independent representatives. But they had misled the workers during forums and assemblies with their anti-KMU propaganda. The WIPER also conducted surveillance and monitoring of the whereabouts of union leaders. In one incident, the WIPER asked for a copy of the attendance of the union assembly. Liza Alo, President of PPWU Packing Plant Workers Union told the mission that she has moved her residence to three different places because of the surveillance of the military and WIPER. Rotto Max Workers Union refrained from joining the May 1 Labor Day rally because of the WIPER’s surveillance.

The military has denied organizing the WIPER, but the ISM saw a streamer tarpaulin of WIPER inside the 25th IB military camp during the ISM’s ocular visit. As the ISM was undertaking the medical and psychotherapy mission, elements identified as WIPER members were seen surveilling the activity. Elements of the 66th IB have also occupied day care centers, basketball courts, and elementary schools in Barangays Osmea and San Miguel. Residents and union members said they felt uneasy with the presence of the military near their homes. The camp is situated adjacent to the municipal gym.

In Paquibato, the military has campaigned against residents forming a peasant alliance and intend to reorganize an existing association of motorcycle drivers. Preventing civilians to join and affiliate with associations was also the intent of the Task Force Davao, a composite of the 60th Ib, 3rd Special Forces, Scout Rangers operating in Paquibato district, Davao City. The president of the association of motorcycle drivers reported of being hounded by soldiers who are seeking to have their association reorganized. He had since resigned out of fear. Peasants planning to form an organization in Brgy. Pandaitan were also intimidated by soldiers who disrupted a barangay council session, according to a minutes of the meeting secured by the ISM. According to local barangay officials, soldiers usually attends association meetings.

Early this year, the military’s 3rd Special Forces poured their outrage on the civilians following a series of tactical offensives by the NPA. The victims submitted affidavits at the CHR. Some of the victims have relocated since then, while others participated in the ISM’s medical and fact finding mission. Cases of physical assault, injuries, indiscriminate firing and grave threats were documented. A 3-year old daughter recounted her ordeal when the military’s chief Col. Ybanez dragged her hair in one of the military searches among residents. Children invited during the psychotherapy sessions were terrified of the militar, airplanes and helicopters hovering in the vicinity. They experience the same fear and terror during the military bombings in the area. Military encampment is visible in Brgy. Mabuhay, Panialom, Paquibato proper, Paradise Embac, and Pandaitan, in schools, gym, barangay hall, chapels, and houses of residents.

As military operations occur, big business corporations eye plantation and mining projects in the area. Based on documents from the environment department, a Certificate for Ancestral Domain Certificate was filed for by Ruben Labawan–one of the officers of the military-backed Tribal Council for Peace and Development–which covers a total of almost 32,000 hectares covering areas in Salapawan, Mapula, Lumiad, Tapak, Pandaitan and Malabog. The CADC would effectively pave the way for a Canadian-owned banana and cacao plantation in Paquibato and a mining project in Sitio Kulape, Brgy. Mapula.

Paving the way for large-scale mining

The ISM visited the Mt. Diwalwal mining area to ascertain reports of the impending relocation of at least 3,000 residents to the lower portion of Diwalwal in Mabatas area which is about seven kilometers away from their homes. Local barangay officials of Diwalwal resist the relocation efforts, even as the provincial and municipal officials support the plan as part of their preventive measures in the event of another crippling landslide in the area.

Residents interviewed by the ISM opposed the relocation as this would greatly affect their livelihood, notwithstanding the fact that the relocation site is not suitable for farming. They also fear that the number of residents the government intends to relocate could be up to 13,000. They said that the reason behind the relocation–protection from landslide–could not be justifiable considering that only about 50 families are affected. They also attest that this may be part of the government’s clearing program to pave the way for the smooth entry of the ZTE large-scale mining operations, in a joint venture with the Arroyo government, that is expected to cover other barangays of Letter B, Bermuda, 55, Nabunga and Caatihan in Davao Oriental.

As this develop, military operations disrupt the day to day activities of residents in and near Diwalwal. The 25th IB, the Army contingent in the area, came from Davao del Sur and Columbio where mining-related human rights abuses were documented. Residents in Brgy. Upper Ulip interviewed by the ISM aired their grievances of human rights abuses committed by the military that include illegal searches, interrogations, threats and harassment, tagging of local leaders as NPA members, and forced labor. Some had to prove that they are ordinary workers in the area. The military had also put up six detachments in five puroks in Diwalwal, four in Brgy. Upper Ulip. It also encamps at the two tribal centers in the area. A team of the 25th IB arrived and observed the whole proceeding of the ISM medical services in Diwalwal. At first, they tried to stop the mission, but when presented with the ISM’s letters to government authorities, they then stayed and observed the whole session until the ISM delegation left.


We are concerned that as the 10th ID continues to deploy enlisted personnel, intelligence operatives, and employ local goons or armed elements and other military assets in the course of their counter-insurgency operations, more civilians will be victimized, more extra-judicial killings will occur, more cases of human rights abuses will continue. In the run up to the 2010 elections, the military attempts to complete its phase to emasculate the revolutionary movement, the list of EJK victims and human rights abuses will continue to grow.

The Arroyo government is continuing its campaign to vilify legal organizations, militant leaders, peasant groups in a bid to decisively defeat the revolutionary movement and to pursue widely-opposed large-scale mining projects in select conflict areas. In the process, the 10th ID Eastern Mindanao Command has made a travesty of the justice system (i.e., by way of pinning the blame on the victims themselves), undermined civilian authority and supremacy and distorted the definition of peace and order by instituting authoritarian rule in far-flung villages.

In view of the foregoing, the ISM asserts for justice and accountability of the government authorities to protect human rights and human dignity and restoration of genuine peace in the affected areas of conflict. The ISM specifically recommends the following:

a. Withdrawal of AFP troops in the areas, most especially in civilian-populated areas, public places and other structures manned by civilian authorities.

b. Creation of credible investigative bodies to look into the cases of extrajudicial killings specially the cases of Rebelyn Pitao, Celso Pojas and Eliezer Billanes

c. Witness protection program must be seriously implemented to encourage more witnesses to come out in the open

d. Delist member of BDS and officers in the affected barangays, if not, totally dismantle Barangay Defense System structures

e. Dismantle WIPER in Compostela and filing of reports of labor rights violations to appropriate international bodies (i.e., International Labor Organization)

f. Dismissal from office of military officials under the 10th ID especially those assigned in Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Davao City where there is a high concentration of extrajudicial killings

g. Protection and unconditional support to the families of victims of extra-judicial killings.

h. Stop the vilification campaign against leaders and members of legal and progressive people’s organizations both in the urban and rural areas

i. Immediate implementation of the planned on-site investigation by Davao City Sangguniang Panglunsod and Commission on Human Rights on the human rights violations committed against the civilians of Paquibato District

Mission Delegates

Rep. Satur Ocampo, Bayan Muna

Rep. Rafael Mariano, Anakpawis

Rep. Joel Maglungsod, Anakpawis

Rep. Luz Ilagan, Gabriela Women’s Party

Marie Hilao Enriquez, Karapatan

Delegates from Australia, South Korea, Argentina, Malaysia, Germany

Joel Virador, Peace Consultant, City Government of Davao

Exodus for Justice and Peace

Inpeace Mindanao

Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao

Urban Integrated Health Services



Community Based Health Services

Promotion of Church People’s Response

Student Christian Movement of the Philippines

College Editors Guild of the Philippines

Sisters’ Association in Mindanao

United Church of Christ in the Philippines

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Davao

Kilusang Mayo Uno

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas

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