Words by Yani Redoblado and Maan Curioso
Following the deaths of Jorge Coronacion and Arnold Buri as the latest in a series of attacks against Quezon farmers, Orly “Ka Orly” Marcellana, regional coordinator of peasant group Tanggol Magsasaka Timog Katagalugan (TM-TK), shared that peasants in Quezon province now fear for their own lives and safety.
“Takot nang umakyat sa bukid ang mga magsasaka; takot nang magsaka, takot nang umakyat sa mga dampa nila [sa bukid] sapagkat sila’y nangangamba na baka sila naman ang mapatay at sila’y maakusahan na mga miyembro ng New People’s Army (NPA),” Ka Orly said in an exclusive interview with the Perspective.
[“Farmers are now afraid to tend to their land and to farm because of their worry that they might be killed or accused of being members of the NPA.”]
Anakbayan Quezon spokesperson Romeo Jara emphasized that an important aspect of the militarization in the province is its geographical characteristics.
“For the longest time, highly militarized na ang District 3 and 4, collectively called South Quezon Bondoc Peninsula. In recent years, mas tumindi ang militarization hindi lamang sa South Quezon, nag-spread na rin ito [militarization] sa iba’t ibang districts. Kaya mahalaga ‘yong geographical na aspeto kasi sobrang laki niyang probinsya at sobrang bilis na lumawak ‘yong nasasakop ng militar sa lalawigan,” Jara explained in a separate interview with the Perspective.
[“For the longest time, Districts 3 and 4, collectively called South Quezon Bondoc Peninsula, have been highly militarized. In recent years, militarization has intensified not only in South Quezon, but has also spread to various districts. The geographical aspect is important since Quezon is a very large province and the military’s coverage in the province is rapidly expanding.”]
It can be recalled that early this year, a series of strafing and aerial bombings were staged in Quezon province (READ: Higit 26,000 na indibidwal sa Timog Quezon, nailalagay sa alanganin dahil sa patuloy na aerial bombing).
Currently, Northern Quezon is also militarized due to the Kaliwa Dam project. Jara added that District 1, which borders San Pablo, Laguna and Quezon province, is also militarized because of the development project of a private company, which eventually displaced farmers and fishers.
According to Jara, the recent killing of civilians in the municipality of Sampaloc was “shocking” considering the relatively small military presence in the area compared to other municipalities in the province.
He said that the incident was unusual for two reasons. First, these incidents occur more often in highly militarized areas like South Quezon Bondoc Peninsula. Second, the slain farmers were not affiliated with any organizations nor influenced with any level of progressive organizing.
Jara added that discussions of the military and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on the supposed dangers of communism and other forms of red scare are prevalent. These discussions were disguised as National Service Training Program (NSTP) seminars conducted in schools.
Jara also said that when the NTF-ELCAC was established, one of the targeted areas was the South Quezon Bondoc Peninsula. Military state forces were allegedly documenting false surrenders under the guise of relief operations conducted in the area.
“Ang gagawin nila [militar], titipunin nila ang mga tao at pagkabigay ng relief goods, sasabihin sa mga tao itaas ang kamay kung sino ang mga nakatanggap na. Pagkataas ng kamay nila [residente], kukunan na sila ng picture at ‘yon na ang gagamiting PR ng mga militar bilang mga sumukong NPA,” Jara stated.
[“What the military will do is gather the people and hand out relief goods, then they will tell the people who have already received it to raise their hand. When the residents raise their hands, they will be photographed and that photo will serve as the PR that will be used as evidences of NPA members who surrendered.”]
There are also cases when the military will force innocent individuals to “surrender” in exchange for money but no payment was being given, resulting in individuals storming military camps to ask for the promised compensation.
“Talagang ginagawa lamang na negosyo […] parang baka na ginagatasan ng militar ang counter-insurgency program ng gobyerno,” Jara remarked.
[“It’s really just treated as a business […] it’s like the military is milking the government’s counter-insurgency program.”]
Uncovering the roots of the militarization
Ka Orly also shared that the roots of militarization and forced surrenders in Quezon province go as far back to the Marcos regime when coco levy funds were forcibly collected from coconut farmers.
“Nitong mga nakaraang buwan hanggang kasalukuyan, patuloy ang pagpapa-surrender ng mga militar sa mga kapatid nating magsasaka sa niyugan, pangunahin yung mga miyembro ng Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin [CLAIM],” the regional coordinator said.
[“In recent months up until now, the military continues to force coconut farmers, mainly members of CLAIM, to surrender.”]
CLAIM is a legitimate organization campaigning for the redistribution of the P105-billion coco levy fund for the benefits and interests of its supposed beneficiaries, who are small coconut farmers and their heirs (READ: 485 coconut farmers from Quezon coerced by state forces to surrender as affiliates of CPP-NPA-NDF).
According to Ka Orly, 75 billion pesos of the coco levy funds were asked to be released in 2012 to be distributed to farmers. In 2019, a senate hearing through the agrarian committee proposed and then enacted that each year, 5 billion pesos will be released by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) for the improvement of services of farmers and the coconut industry.
He added that they have been petitioning for the distribution of the coco levy funds to the farmers since the 1990s because they believe that this is a legitimate fight for farmers’ rights.
However, Ka Orly said, “Ngayon, sa pagnanais ng gobyerno ni Duterte na lipulin at ibagsak ang kilusang rebolusyonaryo, pinag-initan niya ang mga miyembro na magsasaka na nakalagda sa petisyon at inaakusahan nila na may direktang kaugnayan, mga sympathizer o mga NPA members.”
[“In the desire of the Duterte government to eradicate and bring down the revolutionary movement, he directed his rage to farmers who have signed the petitions and tagged them with direct involvement, sympathizers or actual NPA members.”]
He commented further that this is a clear violation of human rights, specifically Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution, regarding the right to organize and establish associations, as well as the right of citizens to launch protest actions in a democratic country.
Ka Orly also explained the system of operations behind these forced surrenders, disclosing that the military uses the coco levy funds issue to deceive farmers in attending supposed “meetings”.
“Pinupuntahan at binabahay-bahay nila ang mga magsasaka at nililinlang nila sa kanilang mga patawag na pulong diumano para pag-usapan ang coco levy fund. Sino bang magsasaka ang aayaw sa pondo ng coco levy na diumano’y iri-release na? Samantala, kapag andon na sila sa mga patawag na papulong, palilitawin na sympathizer at miyembro sila ng NPA. Palilitawin na sila ay sumuko – isang panlilinlang at paglabag sa karapatang-pantao ng mga magsasaka,” he fumed.
[“They go to farmers’ houses and deceive them in their so-called meetings to discuss the coco levy fund. Who would refuse the coco levy fund that is supposed to be released? Then, when they attend the meeting summons, they will be framed as sympathizers and members of the NPA. It will appear that they have surrendered – a deception and a violation of the human rights of the farmers.”]
Farmers have also been expressing their worries as according to Ka Orly, “Umaangal ang mga magsasaka dahil ang iba diyan ay mga senior citizen; paano magiging miyembro ng NPA? Nangangamba sila [magsasaka] bakit sila pinapa-surrender bilang mga sympathizer at miyembro ng NPA samantalang lehitimo ang laban sa coco levy fund.”
“[Farmers are complaining because some of them are senior citizens; how can they be members of the NPA? The farmers are worried why they are being asked to surrender as sympathizers and members of the NPA when the fight for the coco levy fund is legitimate.”]
Since September, there are nine Quezon municipalities where residents were forced to surrender: Macalelon, Lopez, Gumaca, Atimonan, Agdangan, General Luna, San Francisco, San Andres, and Sampaloc.
Ka Orly noted that the military presence in Quezon and across Southern Tagalog has been going on for a long time and will only continue to intensify as the Duterte government nears its end.
TM-TK wrote in a statement that the attacks done by the military forces are “accomplishments” for their promotion for killing and forcing alleged NPA members to surrender.
Ka Orly claimed, “Kapag ikaw ay nakapagpa-surrender ng libu-libo, pwedeng tumaas ang iyong ranggo bilang opisyal ng militar. Nagsisilbing propaganda at parang niloloko lang nila ang kanilang mga sarili na maraming NPA silang napapasuko, na hindi naman talaga NPA kundi mga inosenteng magsasaka at mga CLAIM members.”
[“When you have made thousands surrender, your rank as a military officer can rise. It serves as propaganda and they seem to be fooling themselves that many NPA members are being subdued, who are not really NPA members but innocent farmers and CLAIM members.”]
Under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP), “financial benefits” worth thousands of pesos would be given to surrenderees to help them “reintegrate back to the community”. However, Ka Orly claimed that this rather serves as a misappropriation of funds that only paves way for corruption.
“Kapag ikaw ay nakapagpa-surrender ng maraming mga supporter, maraming NPA, malaking kurakot sa kanila yan. Sa kanilang programa [forced surrender], nakakakuha sila ng P50,000 galing sa DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development] at P15,000 sa LGU [local government unit]. Pero ni isang singkong duling, wala namang binibigay sa mga pinasusuko nila. Nasaan ang milyong-milyong pondo sa pagpapasuko?” Ka Orly added.
[“When you have made a lot of supporters surrender, many NPA members, that is a big corruption to them. In their forced surrender program, they get P50,000 from the DSWD and P15,000 from the LGU. But not even a penny is given to those who surrender. Where are the millions of funds for the surrenderees?”]
Never silenced by fear
A week before the deaths of Coronacion and Buri in Sampaloc, Roderick Sinas was killed in another alleged “armed encounter” with military forces.
Despite bringing necessary documents such as special power of attorney (SPA) and proof of kinship, Karapatan Southern Tagalog’s humanitarian team and Sinas’ family’s request to take the victim’s remains were denied by the military and police forces (READ: Gumaca local police refuses to release remains of alleged NPA combatant despite humanitarian team’s ‘sufficient documents’).
Ka Orly said that Sinas had already been buried in Gumaca, Quezon instead of in the province of Laguna.
“Sa halip na ibigay ng mga kapulisan doon sa binigyang pahintulot ng kapamilya […] na makuha ang bangkay at mailibing nang marangal sa Laguna, ang ginawa ng militar ay sinundo ang kamag-anakan [ni Sinas] at doon na inilibing sa Gumaca,” Ka Orly said.
[“Instead of handing over Sinas’ remains to the team permitted by the victim’s family […] to claim the corpse and to be given a proper burial in Laguna, the military instead fetched the relatives and buried Sinas in Gumaca.”]
Moreover, Ka Orly also mentioned that three individuals were also arrested in Gumaca, which involved two unidentified farmers and Fidel Holanda, a former political prisoner.
Holanda is accused by state forces of being a high-ranking NPA leader. He was nabbed by combined elements of the 85th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) and Gumaca Municipal Police Station (MPS) last November 19. He reportedly has two standing warrants issued by two different branches of the regional trial court of Gumaca both for attempted murder.
A quick response team from Karapatan Quezon, along with the fact-finding team sent from TM-TK, is currently investigating the charges against the three arrested in Gumaca, Quezon.
Despite the heightened militarization all across the province, both Jara and Ka Orly believe that these do not prove that the counterinsurgency program of the Duterte government is successful.
“Hindi natin masasabing tagumpay dahil in the first place, hindi naman nito nare-resolve bakit ba may resistance? Counterproductive rin ito [program] kasi ‘yong mga ginagawa nilang mga military operations ay nakakaapekto sa ekonomiya ng probinsya and in effect, sa ekonomiya ng buong bansa,” Jara stated.
[“We cannot truly say that it is successful because in the first place, it does not resolve the existence of resistance. It is also counterproductive because the military operations affect the economy of the province and of the whole country.”]
Jara added that this is due to the disruption of production, as the 15,000 individuals affected by the military operations is a loss of the agricultural sector.
Ka Orly emphasized that farmers’ resistance will exist so long as there is an unjust system in the society.
“Hangga’t hindi nagbabago ang bulok na sistema ng ating lipunan – hindi pantay ang partihan ng mga magsasaka sa niyugan, sagot ng mga magsasaka ang produksiyon, walang land reform, bagsak presyo ang kopra, at maraming pagsasamantala sa mga magsasaka – kahit isa, dalawa, maraming beses pasukuin, ‘yong simpatya at paglaban ng mga magsasaka ay hindi mawawala sa kanilang puso,” Ka Orly said.
[“Until the rotten system in our society remains unchanged – with unequal partition for coconut farmers, with farmers covering their own production expenses, with no land reform, with low pricing of copra, and with numerous attacks against farmers – not one, two, or huge numbers of surrenders will dishearten farmers to sympathize and fight.”]
Ka Orly urges everyone to help the farmers of Quezon. He also reminded every farmer to reach out to human rights groups on social media platforms to heed their calls and defend their rights after the harassment done by state forces.
“Bagamat may pansamantalang pagtigil dahil sa matinding takot at panghihina [ng loob] ang ating mga kapatid na magsasaka dala ng banta sa kanilang buhay nitong mga kasundaluhan, hindi ito habang-buhay na pananahimik. May panahon na muling sisikad at babangon ang laban ng mga magsasaka sa lalawigan ng Quezon,” Ka Orly vowed.
[“Though fear temporarily halted and discouraged farmers because of the military’s threats to their lives, this will not be permanent silence. There will come a time when farmers will rise to fight again in the province of Quezon.”] [P]