Military trying to divert attention from its violations in Surigao — Karapatan

Dec. 14, 2007

Butuan City Unable to deny the massive human rights abuses that drove the now almost 3,000 lumad and settlers to evacuate from more than 12 communities, the military has set its sights on Karapatan who is helping to expose the plight of the Surigao del Sur evacuees.

Contrary to what Col. Jose Vizcarra of the Philippine Armys 401st Brigade said in Goldstar Dailys December 12, 2007 issue, the military has found means to get inside the evacuation centers, taking photographs of the evacuees and harassing volunteers in the guise of medical/dental missions and providing free entertainment.

Last December 9, 2007, a 6-soldier dental team went inside the evacuation center in Lianga. At the outset, they indicated that they were to serve only 10 patients for tooth extraction, to whom they gave three antibiotics and a days worth of painkillers after the procedure. They even had the audacity to ask the health staff in the center for medicines. In the course of their dental mission, they kept on taking photographs, sowing fear among the evacuees of being tagged in the 58th IBs witchhunt.

That same evening, the soldiers insisted on showing a commercial film to entertain the evacuees, who included elementary school-age lumad children. The movie featured sex and violence scenes.

Military men and intelligence assets loiter around the evacuation centers, taking pictures of the evacuees and those who visit them. Even in evacuation centers, where the lumad hoped for a safe haven away from the soldiers who occupied their homes and communities, the harassment continues.

Col. Vizcarra has repeatedly accused Karapatan of carrying out anti-military propaganda in favor of the NPA. We say the military itself has been carrying out anti-military propaganda with its massive and grave human rights violations that victimized even children and had effected the closure of lumad schools and a high school. It is the military under Col. Vizcarra who has been interrogating children as young as 6 years old, who does not see anything wrong with his soldiers occupying civilian houses, schools and teachers cottages and upon whose command, cannons have been mounted in the middle of a highly populated community. All these have violated Philippine and International Humanitarian Law.

Support for the evacuees and their demands has been pouring in, not because of Karapatan, but because these people have seen the evacuees; they have heard their stories and have discerned the truth on their own: human rights violations have and continue to be committed in the course of military operations in the hinterland communities of Surigao del Sur .

Col. Vizcarra obviously considers the lumad simple-minded and beyond rational thinking, believing them to be easily duped and manipulated into leaving their homes, their livelihood, their land, their schools, just because Karapatan says so. The military evidently believes that both local and foreign organizations, individuals, and even Philippine government agencies can easily be fooled that they would blindly give support to non-existent victims of human rights violations.

The military should stop lying. If they really want to help the people, they should do what the Constitution and International Humanitarian Law dictate: recognize and protect the rights to life, dignity and development of the people. They should stop the military operations to allow the evacuees to return safely to their homes, stay away from civilian communities, stop harrassing the evacuees and respect the rights of civilians.##

Reference: Analyn Lumawag, Deputy Secretary General, KARAPATAN Caraga

Contact Numbers: 09187984512 or (085) 3421459

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