Almost a month since three civilians were said to have been forcibly taken from their home, Karapatan Timog Katagalugan (TK) spokesperson Kyle Salgado said that AFP’s tactic of “providing the civilians a sanctuary” from the New People’s Army (NPA) is part of making the state forces’ counter-insurgency operations appear successful.
“It is a matter of propaganda. Gagawin [ng AFP] ang lahat ng means para mapalabas na nagtatagumpay ang kanilang counter-insurgency operations kahit na tinatapak-tapakan na ang karapatan ng mga karaniwang citizens o civilians,” Salgado said.
The three, including Virgilio Asedillo, his two-months pregnant daughter Chloe Asedillo-Iwarat, and Chloe’s husband Macnie Iwarat resided in Sitio Buho, Brgy. San Antonio, Kalayaan, Laguna. This was where the police found and killed NPA leader Mario Caraig, one of the four killed NPA affiliates informally named the “Kalayaan 4,” in an August 8 raid by the Regional Mobile Forces Battalion-4A (RMFB4A).
Since then, they are believed to still be in the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s (AFP) custody.
To serve and protect?
A statement released by the AFP Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM), 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (2IDPA), and 202nd Infantry Battalion (202IBPA) through Brigadier General Alex Rillera stated that the Asedillo family was brought to Camp Capinpin in Rizal.
“Under duress, these civilians took in alias Jethro who was then fleeing from the Aug 4 encounter site wherein RTF ELCAC 4A’s PLEDS Team neutralised alias Termo, the NPA Commander of the Main Regional Guerilla Unit which operates across Southern Tagalog”, 202nd Infantry Brigade commander BGen. Alex Rillera said in SOLCOM’s statement.
In addition to asserting that citizens are aware of such operations with authorities and civilians, noting that there are documents proving such, SOLCOM pinned the blame on Karapatan-TK for supposedly demonizing the military’s efforts.
2nd Infantry Division commander Major General Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. viewed this as “a manifestation that the NPA terrorists are once again on panic mode as they try to avert the massive paranoia and demoralisation that it will cause upon their ranks which could lead to the underground movement’s permanent demise in Southern Tagalog.”
The military claimed that this was after they had allegedly pleaded to “be taken under government custody out of fear of reprisal from the NPAs” who might think that they were the ones who tipped the security forces of Caraig’s location.
This statement, however, contradicts with testimonies from eyewitnesses. They said that after the police raided the house and killed Caraig in the Asedillo residence, they arrested the family for “harboring a criminal” and took them to the Kalayaan Municipal Police Station (Kalayaan MPS).
Salgado further emphasized that the state forces’ counter-insurgency operations are a product of systemic repression.
“Ang lumabas ay lumapit daw sila kay mayor, tapos si mayor ay nirefer sila doon sa Camp Capinpin. Sa ganitong klaseng tactic, nakikita natin yung sistematikong panunupil, and to think na regular civilians itong mga ito. Hindi naman sila activists, or even armed rebels,” Salgado said.
Karapatan-TK’s fact-finding team had immediately visited Kalayaan MPS to confirm this information but were unable to find the family in the premises. They were then told by police that the family was sent to the police’s Provincial Investigation Unit.
The alliance is currently consulting with its lawyers about filing counter charges against the AFP and the officers responsible starting with the abduction of the three civilians, according to Salgado.
Protection through fear and coercion
This was not the first time that state forces were said to have been using fear as a means to “protect” concerned parties.
Last May 6 of this year, in North Cotabato, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) – Makilala personnel attempted to pick up a 15-year-old student named “Irish” from her school, Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI) – Kisante Campus saying that it was her parents who had requested DSWD to fetch her. The Save Our Schools (SOS) Network later revealed this to be an attempt at coercion by the 39th Infantry Battalion (IB).
As it was shown in the SOS Network’s screenshots, the 39th IB later announced on their Facebook page that “Irish” was a “child-at-risk” and thus was said to have been rescued by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the DSWD.
The SOS Network also referenced an incident last May 10, when ten minor students were said to have been gathered together in a Brgy. New Caridad, Tulunan, North Cotabato daycare center to a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) affiliate known only as “Bryan.”
The children were allegedly recorded on tape and forced to take a test via the singing of the Philippine national anthem and listing of national heroes to determine what they have learned in school. “Bryan” allegedly warned the children that they might be brought again to the center with other youngsters.
“These attacks on the school community [are] happening at a time that the province and the country is under community quarantine,” said the alliance in their Facebook post.
Then on September 3, 15 and 17-year-olds Meriam Beñero and Mary Ann Pasculado were reported to have been taken into custody by DSWD Guihulngan. They had been reported missing since August 14, when the 62nd Infantry Battalion had an alleged encounter with revolutionary forces in Brgy.Sandayao, Guihulngan City.
Human rights group Hustisya Guihulngan, however, refuted the claims of the 62nd IB. Their investigation revealed that state forces shot civilians, not armed rebels, ransacked the homes of farmers, then abducted and brought 23 minors to a Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) detachment in Brgy. Sandayao.
According to Hustisya representative Lea Nilles, the parents of Beñero and Pasculado were unable to bring the children home because DSWD Guihulngan had imposed that the parents first pay a fee of 200,000 pesos for the helicopter expenses which had earlier been used to transport the children.
There was also an instance last December 4, 2018. The mother of a 14-year old child witness of the Sagay Massacre in Negros Occidental, which took place on October 20 that year, raised abuse and Supreme Court (SC) rule violation concerns when her child was allegedly coerced to be a “star witness” in the massacre.
She also filed a complaint of violence on women and children against her estranged husband and her son’s biological father, Vic Pedaso. The police had allegedly been working with Pedaso to pressure the child to testify that the NPA was behind the massacre.
Track record of red-tagging and harassment
While the Kalayaan 4 were confirmed to be affiliated with the NPA, the AFP and PNP also have a track record of forcing worker unions and urban poor groups into surrendering as members of the NPA. In 2020 alone, there have been about four noted incidents.
On April 6, three to five individuals in civilian clothes visited the homes of nine members of the Coca-Cola workers union Unyon ng mga Manggagawang Driver, Forklift Operator, at Picker sa Sta. Rosa Coca-Cola – Independent (UMFPCC-Ind), coercing them to “surrender” as rebel returnees.
On April 23, nine factory workers were brought to Camp General Macario Sacay in Los Baños, Laguna after their 12-hour shift, where they were accused of being members of the NPA. They were interrogated and promised regularization if they stopped attending protests.
On May 1, Labor Day, PNP CALABARZON Regional Office picked up 16 workers from the Coca-Cola FEMSA plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna and presented them to the media as “surrendered members of the CPP-NPA-NDF.”
On May 28, members of the urban poor group San Isidro Kasiglahan, Kapatiran, at Damayan para sa Kabuhayan, Katarungan, at Kapayapaan (SIKKAD K3) and other residents of Brgy. Rodriguez, Rizal were also profiled by state forces and presented by the military as “surrenderees” of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
The NTF-ELCAC, including the AFP SOLCOM, 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) and the 80th Infantry Brigade Philippine Army (80th IBPA) had supposedly invited the members of SIKKAD K3 to meet for a “local peace engagement” through a letter sent to the officials of Brgy. Rodriguez on May 25, 2020. [P]
Photo from Juan Sebastian Evangelista