CHR asked to order army camp closure


Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:41:00 12/23/2008

Filed Under: Human Rights, rebellion, Armed conflict, Regional authorities

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO – The Commission on Human Rights here has concluded the collation of reports and conduct of dialogues on the requests of the Multi-Sectoral Action Group of Aurora (MSAG) to help order the closure of an Army camp in Baler and the pullout of troops in Dipaculao following alleged human rights violations by soldiers.

CHR Central Luzon director Jasmin Regino said her office was expected to submit its findings and recommendations to CHR Chair Leila de Lima by early January 2009.

Regino said De Lima had sent a team in September and November to look into the concerns of MSAG, an alliance of people’s organizations, nongovernment groups and church associations in the eastern Central Luzon province.

“The mere presence of so many soldiers in full battle gear and military equipment roaming around here is already creating fear among the people,” MSAG acting secretary Alfonso van Zijl told De Lima in an Aug. 23 letter, referring to the 48th Infantry Battalion based in Barangay Calabuanan in the capital town of Baler.

Van Zijl said the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, signed by former President Estrada in 1998, and the Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions to which the Philippines is a signatory since 1987, protect the civilian population from the risks and dangers posed by the presence of military camps.

Agreement

The battalion commander, Col. Natalio Jayson, did not conform to the closure and pullout of troops.

In a phone interview, he said the establishment of the camp was approved by the barangay residents and council through a resolution issued in October.

The use of the camp by the Army is covered by a memorandum of agreement with the Philippine National Police and the owner of the three-hectare property donated by the Bitong family, he said.

The 14 families relocated within the former police camp following a typhoon in 1994 have not been forced out. He said they have been asked to confine their abode within the 10 X 2 meters space allotted to them by the municipal social welfare office, Jayson said.

The MSAG also called attention to the use by the Army of barangay halls and health centers in at least 16 villages in Dipaculao, saying these disrupted social services in the town.

Jayson said the Army’s use of those public facilities was given clearance by the municipal council. Soldiers, he said, would stay for a maximum of 45 days to conduct census for the Army’s “bayanihan” security program and civil-military operations.

Seeking an end to supposed human rights violations by the military, MSAG also submitted the affidavits of Federico Ruiz, 56, a member of the Justice and Peace Action Group; Antonio Toledo, 59, a teacher; Elmer Dayson, 56, and a leader of the Panlalawigang Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Aurora; Hipolito Baltazar, 32, and a tricycle driver; and Florencio Pascual, 52, a leader of the Aniban ng Kilusang Magbubukid sa Aurora.

Ruiz claimed that a Sgt. Willie Vedonio had inquired about the activities and membership of the JPAG, invited him twice to the camp and took photographs of him without his consent.

Toledo said Cpl. Marvin de Vera branded him and his wife as members of the New People’s Army when they attended a seminar in Angeles City and failed to attend an Army-organized assembly.

Complaints

Dayson complained of illegal arrest, detention, grave coercion and grave threat by 14 soldiers led by a certain Rivera. The officer, he said, accused him of participating in an ambush on the military in 2005 in San Luis town.

Baltazar admitted killing Cpl. Benjamin Neri when he saw the latter having sex with his wife on Dec. 3 as four soldiers guarded his house.

Pascual claimed that a Corporal Manawis and another soldier repeatedly came to his house to do census, take photographs and accused his daughter Desiresa of replacing Janing Diaz as a leader of the women peasants group Samana.

Jayson said he was verifying these issues.

The MSAG had counted six attacks on human rights in 2006, including the forced disappearance of environmental advocate and radio program host Joey Estriber.

In 2007, it recorded at least four incidents, including the illegal arrest of a Dumagat young man mistaken to be his father, who had long died as an NPA guerilla.

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