Duterte keeps his hands off Paquibato

Mar. 22, 2009

Davao Today

DAVAO CITYWhen mayor Rodrigo Duterte announced he was keeping his hands off Paquibato he admitted the move was tantamount to a breakdown of civilian authority in the area.

He said that civilians caught in the conflict will either have to choose between joining the Philippine Army and joining the Communist New Peoples Army (NPA).

Duterte made the decision after hearing reports that some military officers did not like the way he dealt with insurgents there.

You think you can do better, I give you all the space you need, Duterte addressed the military in a briefing with reporters. I leave you all the problems there, wa na ko’y labot (I don’t have anything to do with it.

The hinterlands of Paquibato have been a stronghold of the NPA leader Leoncio Pitao, also known as Kumander Parago, whose 20 year old daughter, abducted and killed on March 4, was buried last week.

Duterte’s policy with the rebels apparently clashed with that of the army officers, who are bent in using military might to crush the insurgency.

If you think the people of Paquibato are your enemy, go ahead, ubusin na ninyo lahat (finish them off.) Kaya umabot ng 40 years ang away (Thats why, the insurgency lasted 40 years), he said.

Dutertes decision raised fear that rights of civilians might be violated once government forces declare an all out war against the Communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the area.

The mayor particularly criticised the soldiers treatment of civilians. Bogbog dito, bogbog duon (A beating here and there), he said, referring to the six people in barangay Panialum in Paquibato reportedly beaten up by soldiers following a January landmine explosion.

Duterte said he personally saw the bruised faces of six people allegedly beaten by soldiers. The January 29 landmine explosion wounded eight government troops.

According to reports, soldiers were angry that residents did not tell them about the presence of landmines planted there by Communist guerillas.

I think you are the problem, Duterte said to the military. By beating up civilians, you’re just helping the NPA recruit more forces.

He ordered the soldiers to stop indiscriminately arresting civilians without notifying him. You cannot just call civilians to report to your camp, he said, You are not kempetai, the mayor said. Remember, you’re fighting your own countrymen here, this is not the Japanese invasion army. You’re fighting farmers caught in the web of the conflict. You have not learned your lessons, a furious Duterte said.

“What can I tell civilians who are caught in the conflict? Duterte asked. Either join the army or join the NPA,” he said. “But after being beaten by soldiers, where else do you think they will go?” (Germelina Lacorte/davaotoday.com)

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