Government officials have finally stepped in to avert further bloodshed in the Tagum City land dispute between agrarian reform beneficiaries and Lapanday Foods Corp, after two more farmers were wounded in an attack the corporation’s guards today.
The latest outbreak of violence brings to nine the number of farmers injured since beneficiaries asserted on December 9 their claim to land already awarded by the DAR and the regional trial court.
Wounded were Randy Rana and another farmer, surnamed Patindol, who were among seven members standing guard over field workers harvesting crop and then slashing down banana trees.
Aides of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano, who is issuing a cease and desist order today against Lapanday, and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) have been coordinating since rthe initial outbreak of violence last Dec. 12.
Soon after word of the second attack broke, the DILG issued orders to local officials, prompting aid for beleaguered farmers.
In a telephone interview, Tagum Mayor Allan L Rellon, who reached the site around 10 am, said he had ordered the local police to disarm the guards.
Rellon also said he would put up a “command incident center” to prevent further violence.
Renante Mantos, chairperson of Hugpong Sa Mga Mag-uuma sa Walhog Compostela (Humawac), the alliance of farmer cooperatives from the Tagum barangays of Madaum and San Isidro said, also in a phone interview, that local cops had initially refused to step in because the incident happened on private land.
He said both incidents were premeditated and without provocation from farmers.
Rellon said his office had attempted a dialogue in the city hall with the chief of police and provincial agrarian reform officials. He said it did not push through because farmers’ representatives would not leave their camp site on the disputed land.
Mantos said leaders wanted farmers to listen to the dialogue and they could not abandon the land because the armed guards would move in.
Slashed trees: Marbai representatives have harvested and slashed down around five hectares of banana crop, saying they would plant the cleared land with vegetable crops to augment the food needs of 159 families.
Farmers were cutting down banana trees when guards of Lapanday’s security agency, ACDISA, attacked this morning, according to Mantos.
Mantos said farmers had slashed at least five hectares of banana plantations yesterday.
“The guards would not let us farm and harvest in peace so we decided on an action that would also deprive them of what Lapanday wants to steal from us,” Mantos said in the local dialect.
He also said the cleared land would be rehabilitated and planted with vegetables and other crops that could augment the food needs of some 159 beneficiary families.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) had sent a legal team and held an emergency meeting after the first shooting incident last December 12.
It immediately ordered regional and provincial executives to probe the incident and file cases against some 20 perpetrators, led by the head guard only identified by his surname, Vicente.
Lawyer Jobert Pahilha, legal consultant for DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano, said officials would also file today with DARAB (adjudication board) Davao del Norte a motion for Execution of the May 12, 2016 order of installation and to Supervise Harvest.
Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) Jose Nilo Tillano issued a ruling in December 2015 for the Marbai members to be installed on the disputed 145 hectares.
“The said decision has long been final and executory but was not implemented by PARAD Tillano for one reason or another,” Pahilga said.
In October this year, impatient farmer-beneficiaries camped out in front of the Lapanday gate. Mariano had dialogued with the farmers, saying the government wanted to install them peacefully without compromising their safety and security.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano has ordered the Regional Office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Region XI, and the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office of Davao Del Norte to probe the reported gunfire attack by security guards of the Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) at the farmers’ encampment in Brgy. Madaum, Tagum City.
A press release from the DAR said Mariano also instructed local DAR officials to coordinate with the Philippine National Police of Davao del Norte for the possible filing of cases against the suspects of the shooting incident.
What follows is the rest of the press release
“Six victims, including a 16-year-old minor, were taken to the Davao Regional Medical Center after sustaining gunshot wounds at around 7:45 a.m. An airborne craft was also seen spraying pesticide at the campsite immediately after the reported incident.
Farmers of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) have been staging a camp-in protest at the LFC compound after successfully reclaiming the contested land last December 9, six years after the LFC evicted them out.
Almost 2,000 farmworkers and members of peasant organizations have joined the farmers’ camp in Brgy. Madaum to support the fight of the MARBAI farmers.
MARBAI members are farmer beneficiaries who were given Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) in 1996 under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Each of the 159 farmers owns a 0.79-hectare piece of the 145-hectare banana plantation.
According to Mely Yu, President of MARBAI, they were forced to enter a Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement with the LFC who buys their products for export. They were tricked into selling high-grade bananas which were poorly classified for a lower price, thus, resulting to a measly Php 2,000.00 monthly income, she added. Because of the agreement, the farmer beneficiaries became indebted to LFC for more or less a billion pesos (P1,000,000,000.00)
The DAR has been meeting with the farmers for their installation to the 145 hectares as ordered by Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) Jose Nilo Tillano in his December 15, 2015 decision, which has long been final and executory.
In October of this year, when the farmer-beneficiaries were already in a camp-out in front of the gate of LFC, Secretary Mariano himself visited the farmers and had a dialogue with them assuring them that DAR is studying the matter carefully and wanted to install them peacefully into their landholding without compromising their safety and security.
A long-running conflict between Lapanday Foods Corporation and agrarian reform beneficiaries in Tagum City, the capital of Davao del Norte, exploded today in a shooting incident that followed a successful attempt by farmers to reclaim their land.
Renante Mantos, chairperson of Hugpong Sa Mga Mag-uuma sa Walhog Compostela (Humawac), the alliance of farmer cooperatives from the Tagum barangays of Madaum and San Isidro, said in a phone interview that guards of Lapanday’s security agency, ACDISA, wounded seven protesters.
Jose Balucos, 42yrs old; Rico Saladaga , Jojo Gomez , Belardo Francisco, Emanuel Buladaco,46 yrs old; Taldan Miparanun,16yrs old; and Joseph Bertulfo, 58yrs old, were rushed to the Davao Regional Medical Center.
Buladaco and Bertulfo are among the 159 direct beneficiaries involved in the protest, according to Mantos, who remains with more than 200 farmers on the reclaimed land.
The others are members of Humawac cooperatives in the Southern Mindanao area, who reinforced the beneficiaries in their efforts to assert their landonwership that a regional trial court and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 2011. He said they are waiting for medical updates on their colleagues.
The shooting came two days after some 2,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries and supporters stormed the gates of their land – forcibly taken over by Lapanday in 2011 following the DAR decision.
Mantos said armed guards of Lapanday entered the encampment past 7 a.m.
He and other protest leaders were holding a dialogue with the guards’ leader, only known by his surname, Vicente, just three meters from the main bulk of protesters when they heard gunshots.
As protesters rushed to aid the fallen, the guards retreated. The other protesters strengthened their barricades and undertook defensive formations.
After the wounded were taken off the encampment, Mantos siad, the guards returned, having replaced their guns with wooden clubs. They challenged the farmers to a brawl but were ignored, Mantos added.
The land dispute in an area barely an hour from President Rodrigo Duterte’s Davao City turf has been festering since 1996 when the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) awarded 724 farmers in Madaum nearly 570 hectates of land, mostly planted with banana export crop.
Lapanday just released this statement:
Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) denies any involvement in the reported shooting of alleged agrarian reform beneficiaries in Barangay Madaum, Tagum City this morning. Since last week, the company has been seeking police assistance to investigate the presence of armed men who were seen within the areas under Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO-1). HEARBCO-1 which has acknowledged its existing and valid contracts with LFC has been in conflict with a breakaway group of its former members led by Mely Yu who has been engaging armed men to inflict violence and disrupt operations in the farm. Mely Yu and her group were ousted as officers by the majority of HEARBCO-1 in 2011 and since then, her group has caused severe damage to the cooperative. This internal conflict among the HEARBCO-1 and this breakaway group may be the reason for this latest incident.
Protesters deny the claim of armed men, saying guards fired in the air when they asserted farmers’ right to the land. A Kilab Multimedia photo shows most of the protesters without shirts “to prove they were not armed.”
The timeline of the land dispute also indicates that Lapanday has waged a legal battle with the farmers — and lost its case twice.
A decade of woes
The DAR order was covered by Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) No.00398239, issued under Transfer Certificate of Title No. C-10527 and registered on 18 December 1996.
The mother cooperative of beneficiaries, the HIJO EMPLOYEES AGRARIAN REFORM COOPERATIVE 1 (HEARCO1), signed a Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement (BSMA) with Lapanday, owned by the Lorenzo family.
Mantos said within two years, many farmer beneficiaries expressed dismay at the low price for their products and the many supposed debts subtracted from their sales income, “kasi di nila alam saan nanggagaling ang utang at walang supporting documents.”
In the ten years, from 1998 to 2008, skirmishes between restive beneficiaries and guards cost two lives and injured several from both sides of the conflict. Farmer leaders were also booted out of work and reinstated only after years of legal battle.
When the contract with Lapanday expired in 2009, the beneficiaries undertook a referendum for future plans. Majority voted to extend the contract, while 159 voted No.
The nay-voters eventually reached an agreement with the mother cooperative, which allowed them to leave, ceding over 145 hectares covered by a document.
“They found a new buyer with better contract — $8 a box from $4 a box paid by Lapanday,” Mantos said.
The DAR ruled in favor of the benificiaries in 2010, upholding their right to the land parcel ceded by the mother cooperative.
Lapanday: no owner – but exerts control
Mantos said the 145 hectares is only one case. Other land parcels are also involved in on-going disputes between beneficiaries and Lapanday, for unjust wages and onerous practices – reminiscent, he said, of the old, feudal plantation setups in the pre-CARP era.
Lapanday denies ownership of the land. But it filed a a case against the new group, covering the lands they tilled. The corporation lost that legal battle too, with the regional trial court ruling in favor of the formers.
Mantos said the agrarian reform beneficiaries were preparing to till the land after victory when “300 Lapanday guards and goons atacked.”
“Tinutukan sila ng baril at pinalayas,” he said. (Guns were pointed at them and they were forced off the land.)
Despite the legal victories, the beneficiaries were kept out of their lands for the next six years.
After seven months of pickets at the gate of Lapanday’s local office, the farmers sought reinforcement from other peasant’s group in the region and entered to reclaim their land on December 9.
“Lapanday Foods Corporation clarifies that it does not claim ownership over agrarian reform lands awarded to Hijo Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (HARBCO) and Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO-1). This is in reaction to a recent gathering of members and sympathizers of these cooperatives at its offices in Davao City,” the statement read. The LFC said these cooperatives remain the absolute owners of these lands and they only want “these cooperatives honor and respect their valid and lawful contracts with LFC that mandate them to sell the bananas produced in their farms to LFC and allow LFC to manage their farms to ensure the quality of their produce.” The company also said in the contracts where HARBCO borrowed funds for its use from LFC, HARBCO and LFC entered into a banana sales and marketing agreement in 1998 and a general framework on farm handling last December 23, 2008. In these contracts, HARBCO committed to exclusively sell bananas produced in its farm to LFC and allow LFC to manage its farms to ensure the export quality of the bananas.
The Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas – Southern Mindanao said the tagum dispute “is a classic example of what Pres.Duterte refers to as Feudalism.”
The KMP urged Duterte “to walk the talk” and intervene with the farmers upholding the DAR decision.
“We hope that he understands very well that agrarian reform remains myth so long as landlords continously grabbed the lands of nameless farmers. If the farmers will not fight for their rights to survive what assurance can they get from this landlord-dominated government?” said KMP-SMR chairperson, Pedro Arnado.
Lords of the land
The Tagum dispute is an emblem of the struggles that face Filipino farmers decades after the passage of what was pledged to be a landmark law for a comprehensive agrarian reform program (CARP) and congress approval of a successor program, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reform (CARPER).
Lapanday is controlled by the Lorenzo clan. Its chief executive officer, Regina Lorenzo, is the sister of Martin Lorenzo, a top executive of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, the sugar mill of the Cojuangco clan’s sprawling Hacienda Luisita.
A recent outbreak of violence also occurred in Luisita, where beleaguered land workers still have to benefit fully from a final Supreme Court ruling in 2013.
Distribution of land has gone very slowly for beneficiaries. In 2009, the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department of the House of Representatives, said CARP had a balance of 1.6 million hectares, covering 1.2 million farmer beneficiaries. The environment department, it added, also had nearly 600,000 hectares of land still undistributed to farmer-tillers.
CARPER received a P150 billion budget. But in a 2015 report, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism said DAR had still failed to distribute 726, 421 hectares and the DENR still had some 100,000 hectares to go.
Even those who have received land continue to struggle from their lack of access to affordable credit, the continued lack of support mechanisms from government and the market control exercised by agriculture dealers who are also often big landlords.
The hardships often end up with re-concentration of lands, which are then blamed on workers and not on government neglect and collusion with big landowners.
Mariano said the proposed EO should also cover applications for exemption/exclusion of land from the coverage of CARP and other agrarian reform laws and programs.
The practice is currently allowed by Section 20 of the Local Government Code, which authorizes municipal and city councils to reclassify agricultural lands into other uses.
It’s a long, long fight, paid for by tears and blood. Farmers formed the bulk of restive Filipinos who rose up against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and joined the New People’s Army as big ticket development projects drove them off their lands.
We hailed the UN experts then because they stood for people who needed as much help as they could get — even while we were already helping them.
President Rodrigo Duterte, with his long time affinity with the Lumad, knows more than most people that UN Special Rapporteurs are NOT enemies of the Filipino people. They’re not stooges, not agents by foreign powers.
Special Rapporteurs — independent experts and working group members – work on behalf of the United Nations within the scope of “special procedures” and they bear a specific mandate from the UN Human Rights Council.
There are two kinds of mandates from the council – a country mandate or a thematic mandate. As of 27 March 2015, there are 41 thematic and 14 country mandates (List below)
Special Rapporteurs need permission from a country to visit. (“At the invitation of States..”) To shorten the process, some countries have issued “STANDING INVITATIONS”. The Philippines is NOT among these countries.
“They undertake to uphold independence, efficiency, competence and integrity through probity, impartiality, honesty and good faith. The independent status of the mandate-holders is crucial for them to be able to fulfil their functions in all impartiality. A mandate-holder’s tenure in a given function, whether it is a thematic or country mandate, is limited to a maximum of six years.”
In 2015, UN Special Rapporteur for Internally-Displaced Persons, Chaloka Beyani, came to investigate the plight of the Lumad of Mindanao. Among the places he visited was the Haran sanctuary in Davao City. Here are some stories on that interesting episode:
“THE AFP STATEMENT PROVIDED IS CONSEQUENTLY A GROSS MISREPRESENTATION OF THE POSITION OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR” — Graham Fox, media officer of Dr. Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Peoples
This came after passage of the Commission on Human Rights resolution 20 (XXXVI). The first Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reporting to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1982/35 begun work in 1982.
There are five United Nations regional work groupings: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and the Western group.
What do special rapporteurs do?
“They can act on individual cases of alleged violations and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, contributing to the development of international human rights standards ; engage in advocacy and raise public awareness ; and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special Procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council and the majority of the mandates also report to the General Assembly.”
So, yes, UN experts need an invitation — and can request for one — from states to visit.
Countries issue “standing invitations” to signify they are prepared to receive a visit from Special Rapporteurs.
What does it mean that Special Rapporteurs “act independently of governments and as such are free to circumvent sovereign nations and democratically elected governments and policies”?
They are not answerable to governments precisely because they are independent. Meaning, governments are not shown their notes (security of witnesses, etc). Governments do not sign off on their reports — because they are not employees of government.
However, there are mechanisms to follow, including the fact that they do talk extensively with government. “At the end of their visits, special procedures’ mandate-holders engage in dialogue with the State on their findings and recommendations and present a report to the Human Rights Council,” says the OHCHR.
There’s nothing sinister about Special Rapporteurs.
At the invitation of States, mandate-holders carry out country visits to analyse the human rights situation at the national level. Some countries have issued “standing invitations” to the Special Procedures, which means that they are prepared to receive a visit from any thematic mandate-holder. As of 1 January 2015, 109 Member States and one non-Member Observer State have extended a standing invitation to thematic special procedures. At the end of their visits, special procedures’ mandate-holders engage in dialogue with the State on their findings and recommendations and present a report to the Human Rights Council.
There is no reason to be scared of these experts. They won’t allow themselves to be used by any political party or any foreign power out to rock Digong. That’s where you — believers — can come in and clearly show why you support the President.
President Duterte has strong support — 90% of the population. I oppose many of his methods on the war on drugs but recognize that majority support it, right or wrong.
Disabuse yourself of the notion that “dialogue” needs to be strictly internal.
When you impose those conditions, it’s no longer called dialogue. Only North Korea and a few other weird countries have that kind of set up and their citizens continuously try to find ways around the blockade.
CPP-NPA ceasefire declaration orders a halt to all offensives but mandates guerrilla units to take “active defense” when faced with hostile actions by state security forces. The ceasefire order also defines “hostile actions.” But it is silent on paramilitary forces known to be trained and supervised by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) has declared a seven-day ceasefire “to celebrate and bolster the resumption of formal GRP-NDFP peace talks.”
The ceasefire will take effect starting 12:01 a.m. of August 21 and will last until 11:59 p.m. of August 27.
The CPP central committee said the NDF negotiating panel to peace talks with President Rodrigo Duterte’s government recommended the ceasefire. It said the ceasefire will take effect with or without reciprocal action from the government.
The directive came after an announcement that the NPA would release prisoners of war. NDF negotiating panel member Fidel Agcaoili said the NDF has six prisoners of war, all in Mindanao. Four are in the Caraga and Surigao regions; two, in the Southern Mindanao region.
The formal talks between the negotiating panels of the NDFP and GRP are scheduled for August 22-26 and will be held in Oslo, Norway.
“This ceasefire declaration is encouraged by the GRP’s facilitation of the release of nearly all NDFP consultants who are set to participate in peace negotiations in the course of the next several months,” said the CPP and NPA.
“With or without reciprocation by the GRP, the NPA must maintain a high-level of alertness against enemy troop movements,” said the CPP. “Even while ready to engage in defensive action, the NPA will exert efforts to carry out early counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters during the specified ceasefire period.
When Duterte met with consultants of the NDF in Malacanang last week, he told them to ignore the angry words unleashed in the last few weeks, whether in tit-for-tat exchanges with exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison or during a round of visits to military camps.
NDF consultants interviewed following their release from prison acknowledged concern at Duterte’s rantings.
But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s words and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”
The consultants seem to have gotten that right.
The ceasefire directive, which was furnished to media, ordered regular guerrilla units and people’s militia to cease offensive military operations against personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
But the communist leadership also told rebel units to “remain on defensive mode at both the strategic and tactical levels.”
Local commands, the statement said, should maintain a high degree of militancy and vigilance against any hostile actions or movements by enemy armed forces with the aim of encirclement and suppression.”
It defined hostile actions thus:
“The NPA shall consider as hostile action encroachments on the territory of the people’s democratic government by operating troops of the AFP and its paramilitaries to conduct surveillance, psywar and other offensive operations that are labelled as “peace and development”, “civil-military”, “peace and order” and “law enforcement” operations.
Active-defense operations by the NPA shall be undertaken only in the face of clear and imminent danger and actual armed attack by the enemy forces and only after exhausting counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters.”
It ordered local units to report hostile actions, provocations or movements to the concerned NPA commands and CPP leadership.
The ceasefire directive told NPA units not to arrest individual cops and soldiers with “no serious liabilities other than their membership in their armed units” and allow them to “enter the territory of the people’s democratic government to make personal visits to relatives and friends.”
Silence on paramilitary groups
The ceasefire order was markedly silent on paramilitary groups that abound in Mindanao. While officially not part of the AFP organisational structure, local government officials across Mindanao have exposed the military as the organiser, trainer and supervisor of these armed groups.
Human rights advocates and indigenous people’s organisations across Mindanao say the paramilitary are the AFP’s dirty tricks department. Partly funded by big mining and plantation firms under an executive order signed by former President Benigno Aquino III, these groups have killed dozens of indigenous leaders.
Paramilitary forces have also and stepped up their attacks since the proclamation of Duterte as winner of the 2016 presidential elections.
The CPP stated cited the case of Ka Eduardo Sarmiento, arrested in February 2009, convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2013.
The CPP reiterated its “deep appreciation of the determined efforts of GRP President Duterte to push forward and accelerate the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations as a means of addressing the roots of the civil war in the Philippines.”
“We hope that this ceasefire declaration will be reciprocated by the GRP as a show of all-out determination to move forward with peace negotiations,” said the CPP.
NDF peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili shared the POW release announcement as top underground leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon walked out of Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and their place of detention since their capture in June 2015.
The POW release statement mentioned only two by name. One of them was Governor Generoso Police Chief Insp. Arnold Ongachen, captured during an NPA raid on their police station on May 28, before President Rodrigo Duterte’s assumption of power.
Agcaoili said the NPA was ready to release POWs in Caraga but facilitation was delayed by military operations.
“The GRP panel wanted to be at the turnover but as they’re here, maybe other officials can do it. Actually, those four were to have been released earlier but the big AFP operations delayed the release. Even the GRP panel said there was very heavy fighting and so they did not want to enter the area that time.”
Then still mayor of Davao City, Duterte immediately asked rebels to release the police officer. Duterte has accepted turnovers of captured cops and soldiers in the past.
But on June 2, citing a rebel report on the seizure of some drugs from Ongachen’s office, Duterte said he was leaving the cop to the mercy of the NPA and suggested, half in jest, a sentence of 20 years of hard labor.
The PNP and the AFP mounted operations to get the captured police officers and other soldiers captured in Agusan but have failed to make headway so far.
Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire during his first State of the Nation Address. While rebels welcomed it, they sought clearer details of its implementation.
Three days after, the NPA ambushed a joint paramilitary and AFP team. The action, which the NPA explained as part of its active defense measure, killed some soldiers and wounded others.
An angry Duterte rescinded his ceasefire order amid a series of angry exchanges with senior NDF consultant and CPP founder, Jose Maria Sison.
Later, in several visits to military camps across the country, Duterte would unleash diatribes on the NPA, insisting the use of command-detonated mines is a violation of the Genera Convention. The rebels insist the treaty only covers contact-activated mines.
NDF consultants acknowledged concern at Duterte’s tirades. But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s rants and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”
The CPP statement said rebels will push their call for Duterte to “issue a general amnesty to pave the way for the release of all political prisoners.” Militant party-list groups have filed a measure in the House of Representatives. The President earlier said he will declare amnesty after a final peace agreement.
Rebels said they are also open to discussing a longer ceasefire “upon completion of the release of all political prisoners.”
The New People’s Army will release some prisoners of war as a goodwill gesture for the resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and Asia’s longest-running insurgency.
National Democratic Front peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili told ABS-CBNNews in an email exchange that the NPA Command in Aguusan is now working out “the safe and orderly release of four POWs captured during rebel raids and ambuscades.
He also said the government negotiating panel had wanted to be present for the release.
Agcaoili has clarified there are a total of six prisoners of war across Mindanao.
The two officers named in the NDF statement below are in the Southern Mindanao area; the rest are in the Caraga and Surigao area and the subject of Agcaoili’s remarks.
Agcaoili bared the news as the Timazons dropped by to thank peace advocates holding a rally in front of Camp Crame, their detention centre.
But even as Agcaoili was sharing the POW release news, the Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.
“Gusto sana ng GRP Panel sila ang tatanggap pero nandito sila for the talks. Possibleng sa ibang officials na lang. Actually matagal na dapat na-release pero inabutan ng malaking mil operations. Kahit GRP Panel nagsabi matindi ang labanan dun, ayaw nilang pumasok,” Agcaoili added. (The GRP panel wanted to be at the turnover but as they’re here, maybe other officials can do it. Actually, those four were to have been released earlier but the big AFP operations delayed the release. Even the GRP panel said there was very heavy fighting and so they did not want to enter the area that time.)
“The National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Southern Mindanao Region today ordered the release of the two Prisoners of War currently in separate custody of the units under the NPA ComVal Davao Gulf Sub-Regional Command as goodwill measure for the formal resumption of the peace negotiations on August 22,” the statement said.
Earlier today, the GRP released NDFP consultants Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria Tiamzon, who were leading members of the CPP and key consultants of the NDFP when they were arrested in March 2014.
Custodial units of POW Arnold S. Ongachen and POW Michael B. Grande have reported the good state of health and lenient treatment of the two prisoners despite persistent attacks of AFP troops in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley. They have likewise assured that an orderly and safe turn-over of the prisoners of war may be conducted pending a GPH undertaking of suspension of military and police offensives.
The People’s Democratic Government’s judicial proceedings and investigations into POW Ongachen and POW Grande’s possible war crimes and violation of people’s rights have been effectively suspended in deference to appeals of their families and peace advocates. POW Ongachen and POW Grande have apologized for their violations against the people.
The NDFP-SMR likewise acknowledges GPH Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s efforts that resulted to the on-going process of release of the 22 NDFP peace consultants. This is definitely a positive development in the long-sought justice for these political prisoners and a welcome deviation from the previous reactionary regimes’ militarist approach and despicable contravention of the Comprehensive Agreement for Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
While the CPP, NPA and the NDFP have consistently adhered to international conventions and mutually-agreed upon accords between the GPH and the NDFP, the AFP and the PNP continue to file trumped-up charges to ensure that political prisoners such as NDFP consultants, Red fighters, even civilians and legal activists languish in jail for common crimes they did not commit. Some were even tortured, raped or summarily executed. This is a far cry from the lenient policy of the NPA towards Prisoners of War and are later released in recognition of appeals of families and well-meaning parties.
The NDFP-SMR expects the immediate release of the remaining 540 political prisoners in compliance of the Duterte government to the CARHRIHL and the JASIG. The success of the talks en route to a viable peace accord between the two governments in the Philippines rests in the main on GPH’s—especially the AFP, PNP and their paramilitaries’—adherence to previous agreements and the serious deliberation of the roots of the civil war. In these objectives, the NDFP and the entire revolutionary movement have been and continue to be firmly resolute.
Rubi del mundo
National Democratic Front of the Philippines
Southern Mindanao Region
Even as National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants Wilma and Benito Tiamzon finally walked out of detention from Camp Crame today, reports from regions indicate that state security agencies are stepping up attacks against legal activists.
The Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.
Pond is also the research and documentation officer for the Salugpungan School Network in Mindanao, which remain the only available opportunities for education of indigenous children.
The attack happened as peace panels of the government and the NDF were preparing for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks in Oslo, Norway.
Pond was accosted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) criminal instigation and detection group (CIDG) after a three day RMP assembly at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center on Archbishop Reyes Avenue, in Cebu City’s Lahug district.
Her arrest came as activists and peace advocates were hailing the release of the Tiamzon couple, which brought the number of freed National Democratic Front (NDF) political prisoners to 17.
“They will join 15 others so far released in peace talks in Oslo on August 22 and for consultations with the NDF Negotiating Panel,” lawyer Edre Olalia said. Two of the released consultants are not joining the Oslo talks as they need urgent medical care, NDF sources said.
The RMP report said Pond was in a taxi with three other people when CIDG cops blocked them. They forced her out of the vehicle.
“The female CIDG held her by the arm and asked her with different names but she denied. This was followed by more questions showed photographs, and a supposed warrant of arrest, but they did not make her read the warrant,” the report said.
“One of Amy’s companion insisted that she should read the warrant for her to know what her case is but despite Amy and her companion’s insistence they failed to let Amy read the warrant. Amy vehemently resisted this illegal arrest.”
The witnesses said one of the CIDG men went near Amy and inserted two ID’s in her bag.
“Then they asked her to alight the car. She refused to go with them but they forced her. In this instance, Sr. Francis Anover and Sr. Marisol Garduno who were also in the center immediately went to her rescue.”
Pond was brought to Camp Sotero in Cebu City. and charged with double murder and frustrated murder in Compostela Valley under the name of Adelfa Toledo.
Before Pond’s arrest, Quezon province cops nabbed a peasant leader identified with the military party-list group, Anakpawis.
Bulatlat quoted Pacalda as saying the peasant leader held with him his copy of the certificate from the National Amnesty Commission when he was arrested at around 9 a.m. Aug. 12. He was on a jeepney en route to the Anakpawis Partylist’s office in Catanauan town.
The rebellion charge against Pajalla, which is the ground for his arrest, was first filed in 1995. But Pajalla was granted amnesty by President Ramos in 1997, said Pacalda.
Karapatan and other rights groups have warned that the continuing presence of paramilitary troops — trained and supervised by the military — represents a major threat to the peace process.
“We must watch out for saboteurs,” said Catholic Bishop (Caloocan City) Deogracias Yñiguez on the eve of the Tiamzons’ release. He said church workers and civil society and people’s organizations must remain vigilant on human rights violations and other abuses, which could wreak havoc on the peace process.
The Ecumenical Bishops Forum and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Yñiguez said, worked hard with other groups “to find many ways to ensure that the crucial peace process resumes.”
Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo confirmed that paramilitary troops strafed a lumad community on July 30 during holding a wedding in San Fernando, Bukidnon, killing a pregnant woman and wounding seven other people, including five children.
A DSWD report said a paramilitary group associated with the 8th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army. Taguiwalo said all victims beneficiaries of the DSWD’s 4Ps and Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT).
Taguiwalo also ordered an investigation into the provision of projects for suspected mastermind ‘Alde Salusad’ or ‘Butsoy’ despite a warrant of arrest for a previous killing of a lumad datu, Jimmy Liguyon, in front of his small children.
The Save Our Schools (SOS) network said attacks on indigenous schools in Mindanao have increased following then assumption of Duterte. The tough talking leader has close links to restive indigenous groups fighting against the entry of big mining firms and plantations into their ancestral lands.
In the areas around Duterte’s home city of Davao, teachers were forced to close down some schools because of death threats, according to SOS executive director Rius Valle.
He said paramilitary forces trained and supervised by military officials were hunting the teachers in the Pacquibato district of Davao City.
“They documented attempts to kill them,” Valle said in an interview.”The two teachers had to close down the school and seek sanctuary in Davao City.”
After the Paquibato incident, which happened just before Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona), paramilitary troops also killed the leader of a parents’ association in a lumad school on the outskirts of Davao City. The community in the area have a long running feud with religious leader Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a known supporter and friend of Duterte.
On August 13, six men, riding in tandem on three motorcycles, also strafed a group of lumad in Barangay Zillovia, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur. A woman, shot in the chest, had to be placed under intensive care.
The victims are indigenous claimants to land now covered by an forestry agreement granted to Provident Tree Farms, INc.
The RMP said the incident is connected to an earlier series of attacks, including the murder of Datu Mansulbadan, the former supreme datu of the Manobo community in the area.
Four other Manobo — including a 13-year old boy — who were the apparent target of the gunmen suffered less serious injuries. The attack also prompted an evacuation of residents.