Solidagro partner organizations have expressed alarm and condemnation over the persistent acts of political vilification carried out by government soldiers against them and other progressive non-government organizations as the Aquino administration intensifies its counter-insurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan (Internal Peace and Security Plan).
This method has been consistently used by the military to discredit development workers whom it accuses as enemies of the state for being critical of the government policies that are detrimental to people’s interest. The military fails to distinguish development workers who are performing advocacy works from insurgents who are waging armed struggle to topple the government. What is most disturbing is that political vilification often leads to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Oplan Bayanihan is the Aquino administration’s version of the previous administrations’ counter-insurgency programs in their attempt to end the persistent armed conflict in the country. What differs Oplan Bayanihan from other counter-insurgency programs is its active effort to employ non-combat strategies such as delivery of social services, building roads, bridges and schools and participating in community affairs alongside military combat operations. But progressive groups have observed that these strategies are not really aimed at addressing the root causes of insurgency such as poverty due to landlessness and unemployment, corruption in the government and the gross inequality in wealth and power but mere attempts to win the sentiments of the people who have long endured all kinds of abuses in the hands of the military for justly demanding from the government their right to land and decent life. Besides, the military has arrogated unto itself works which some government agencies and local government units are mandated to do.
Significantly, it is widely observed that Oplan Bayanihan is being implemented in areas where there are active people’s struggles against development aggressions such as large-scale mining and logging, agribusiness plantations and renewable energy projects by transnational corporations even when there is no existing insurgency problem.
Non-government organizations who are working with people organizations in these areas have been vilified by the military accusing them of inciting the people to fight against the government while the latter vainly attempts to force into the communities government projects that do not really address the real needs of the people. Gross human rights violations are taking place in the midst of the struggle of the people to protect their lands and resources. These are meant to stifle their opposition and struggle against development aggressions and militarization.
But over the years, the military has failed to dissuade the people as communities continue to embrace and benefit from the programs initiated by these organizations especially with regards to food security. As a result, the military is now resorting to equally repulsive method of pressuring local government units and barangay (village) councils to reject any projects identified with organizations whom it accuses as state enemies, or much worse, attempting to take over their projects.
Municipal resolution vs CDPC
The Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC) had to withdraw the implementation of its food security projects in the town of Daguioman in Abra province after its municipal council headed by the vice mayor issued a resolution rejecting any CDPC project in the said town on a baseless accusation that CDPC staff are members of an insurgent group.
Daguioman is one of the towns in Abra where there is strong resistance against large-scale mining operations. It is among several municipalities in Abra where thousands of hectares of lands are currently under application for mining exploration permit by a foreign mining company.
In a letter sent to Solidagro country office, CDPC explained that last May 13, the municipal council of Daguioman invited CDPC to attend a special session in the municipal hall. It was also attended by the local police and some elders. In the early part of the session, the municipal council and the elders reportedly heaped praises on the programs of CDPC in their communities; but in a sudden turn of events and to the staff’s surprise, the council and the elders began to throw accusation that CDPC’s staff are members of an insurgent group and because of that they were rejecting all CDPC projects in the town. The CDPC staff were not given any chance to defend themselves from the accusation as the vice-mayor hastily adjourned the session. Since it was getting dark, the council perversely advised them to spend the night inside the building since they could not guarantee their safety if they left at that time.
According to the account of one of the CDPC volunteers who attended the session, they suffered harassment in the hands of some policemen who stayed with them in the building and put them under virtual interrogation. The next day, a policeman even followed them as they left the municipal building as if he was monitoring their movement.
Upon learning of the incident, CDPC immediately made a statement opposing the resolution of the municipal council. Thereafter, CDPC had called on the governor of Abra and the town mayor to reject the said resolution.
Due to the growing pressure, the municipal council issued on July 28 a resolution attesting to the legality of CDPC and affirming its credibility among the communities being served by its projects. However, it was very unfortunate that it did not supersede the earlier resolution that disallowed any CDPC project in said municipality.
“In simple analysis, this move of the MLGU of Daguioman is simply tied to the OPLAN BAYANIHAN of the government to end the so called “insurgency” problem. Now OPLAN BAYANIHAN makes use of the local government units and government agencies, forming fake elders to block development activists entering their areas. The true victims here are the community people who are deprived of their rights to genuine sustainable development” said CDPC in the letter.
Military taking over the food security project in Samar
In another incident, the Eastern Visayas Rural Assistance Program (EVRAP) reported that in its areas in the town of Las Navas in Northern Samar, the military has been spreading lie that EVRAP had already abandoned its food security projects in several communities and that they are now taking over the projects.
After the onslaught of super-typhoon Yolanda, EVRAP staff were temporarily redeployed to areas heavily affected by the typhoon to assist in the relief and rehabilitation projects of other NGOs. For six months, they were not able to return to Las Navas since the town was spared from the onslaught of Yolanda.
In June this year, the military called a meeting with barangay captains of areas where there are EVRAP projects. The military allegedly wanted them to sign an affidavit declaring that EVRAP had abandoned its projects and that from then on the military will take over the projects.
When EVRAP staff finally returned to the area, the people immediately told them of said military posturing. They also reported that the military was using certain individuals to spread such lie.
The next day, without realizing that EVRAP staff was at the area, the military came to call a village meeting in line with their activities under the Oplan Bayanihan. The soldiers were caught flat-footed when EVRAP staff appeared in the meeting and bravely confronted them.
But even before this incident, EVRAP and the people’s organizations in Las Navas have been at the receiving end of military’s harassment and vilification. According to one EVRAP staff, the real motive behind military’s attempt to take over EVRAP’s project is its desire to destroy the people’s organizations who are vocal advocates of genuine agrarian reform. The frequent military operations in the area have taken their toll on the people, especially on the children who suddenly burst into tears and fearfully run away whenever they see soldiers patrolling in their communities.
Another Solidagro partner, the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development ( ALCADEV), which provides alternative education focusing on organic agriculture to Manobo (indigenous people) youth in Surigao del Sur in Mindanao, had suffered being harangued in the media by the military accusing it of instilling among its students attitude of resistance against the government. The military had twice raided the school and sowed terror among its surrounding communities which resulted in several forced evacuations. As in Daguioman, an active people’s struggle is being waged against the entry of large-scale mining in the said place. Numerous leaders of the indigenous peoples’ organizations which ALCADEV is affiliated with had been arrested. The latest is the arrest on trumped up charges of Genasque Enriquez, Secretary General of Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon-Caraga (Kasalo-Caraga), a regional alliance of indigenous people’s groups in Caraga region in Mindanao, and second nominee of KATRIBU, a party-list group representing the indigenous peoples.
These abuses have also been endured by other rural development non-government organizations. Various human rights organizations have condemned the intensification of political vilification on development workers and have taken the government to task for allowing the military to use it as part of its counter-insurgency program.
Of the 192 extra-judicial killings of social activists recorded by the human rights group Karapatan, at least 156 are peasant and indigenous peoples leaders and 8 are development workers. Numerous others were killed and/or abducted following a systematic campaign of political vilification by the military.#