DAVAO CITY— A farmer and his sons said they’ve been beaten and forced to admit they were members of the New People’s Army by soldiers who picked them up near the landmine explosion site in Paquibato.
“Bisan unsaon mi og kulata, wala mi ikatug-an kay dili mi NPA (No matter how they beat us, they could not get anything from us because we are not NPAs),” said Mateo Molato, 57, who, along with his sons Jimboy, 21 and Richard, 18, were turned over to the Mintal police station where they are currently detained.
Molato said they were tilling their farm in sitio (subvillage) Salagunting in Paquibato at 3 pm on November 23, when they heard a loud explosion, followed by exchange of gunfire. Later, they learned that the blast came from a landmine planted by NPA guerillas to target passing soldiers.
When the firing stopped after two hours, Molato and his sons came out from where they were hiding and followed the narrow road from their farm to join other fleeing civilians from their community.
But he said soldiers belonging to the 69th Infantry Battalion led by 2nd Lieutenant Ryann Velez blocked them on the road. The soldiers beat them and forced them to admit they were NPAs. Molato said the soldiers were very angry because four of their members were wounded from the explosion.
In a statement, Maj. Gen. Carlos Holganza, commanding officer of the 10th Infantry Division, said that aside from the four soldiers, the bomb explosion also hit a 66-year old woman. He said the NPAs ignored the safety of civilians. But Kelly Delgado, secretary-general of human rights group Karapatan in Southern Mindanao, said the woman was not hit by a landmine, but by the soldiers’ firearms.
Delgado said 100 families fled their communities, as a result of the soldiers’ indiscriminate firing in the area. Karapatan also reported that soldiers have restricted the movements of people in the area and limited the delivery of rice and other commodities for fear that these might be supplied to the NPAs.
He said that aside from the Molatos, a certain Lt. Rosalejos, also of the 69th IB, also beat a certain Leo Sagittarius, also a farmer in the area.