DAVAO CITY – Government soldiers “evicted” farmers from their homes and installed sand bags surrounding them to use them as “barracks”, the human rights group Karapatan said after a fact-finding mission in the area Wednesday last week.

A photo taken by Karapatan shows men at the doorway of a house with a sand bag fortification, one of them is armed with a rifle.

The photo was taken in Barangay Malamodao in Maco, Compostela Valley, said Karapatan.

Another set of photos shows armed men in Army green shirts and shorts outside a house and another group occupies a building labeled “Reading Center”, which Karapatan said are located in Barangay Tagbaros, also in Maco.

Rogel Otero, spokesperson of Indug Kautawan, an organization of farmers and small-scale miners in the area, said their members complained that they were forced to leave their houses for fear of the Army troops.

“At first, they camped around the house to rest. But they stayed so the residents of the house chose to leave instead and transferred to a relative,” said Otero.

Hanimay Suazo, spokesperson of Karapatan said the Army unit, whom she said belongs to the Army’s 71st and 66th Infantry Battalions, committed a “violation of domicile” under the International Humanitarian Law by “occupying civilian houses.”

Cris Alya, chairperson of the Golden Valley Banana Planters Association (Govabapa) of Barangay Golden Valley in the neighboring town of Mabini, said the Army also did the same in their area.

“No resident is strong enough to deny the Army men of what they want because they simply fear their presence. They also approach and encamp in homes they suspect of supporting the NPA (New People’s Army),” Alya said.

Alya said he was allegedly harassed by Army men who said that Govabapa is an organization under the NPA.

“That is what they do if you don’t support them, they make you a target of their threats and intimidation. But we are only protecting our communities,” he said.

He said last February, the Army was engaged by the NPA in a firefight while the Army men were still inside the community.

“That is why we don’t want them inside the houses and near our communities because they have an enemy who may attack them anytime. We were really traumatized,” he said.

Alya suspects the Army only frequented there “in preparation for the entry of large-scale mining company from Australia, One Asia Resources.”

Otero said the same incident happened in Maco when one mining company entered.

“The Army never set foot in our communities before. They only arrived when Apex (Mining Company) arrived,” he said.

He said soldiers and mining guards harassed residents in the villages surrounding the mining area. “Last week, Apex bulldozed the gold-panning facilities by residents in the Barangay Teresa river. The men and women could only watch and cry while it was being done,” he said.

Otero said gold-panning from the wastes of small-scale miners has been the livelihood of several residents, aside from farming.

Meanwhile, One Asia Resources Mining Corp’s application was denied by the MGB in June 2011 after applying in November 2009 for a 6,530.33-hectare MPSA in Pantukan, Compostela Valley.

Karapatan said they have documented 40 civil rights abuses by the Army that affected 7,501 households, or 32,261 individuals both in Maco and Mabini during the said mission. (davaotoday.com)

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