The Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera participated in a community based dialogue on human rights among the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), Local Government Units, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and local communities in Mountain Province organized by the Commission on Human Rights- Cordillera Administrative Region (CHR-CAR). The dialogue was in response to reported human rights issues attendant to the “community support program” of the 81st Infantry Battalion (IB) of the AFP including entries of the AFP in selected barrios in the municipalities of Besao, Sagada and Sadanga.

This activity was participated in by Mayor James Pooten Jr. of Sagada, Mayor Johnson Bantog II of Besao, Christopher Pallar representing Mayor Jose Limmayog Jr. of Sadanga, Randy Awisan representative of the Provincial Governor Bonifacio Lacwasan, Sanguniang Bayan of Besao and barangay officials of Tamboan all from the Local Government Units (LGUs). Provincial Director Allen Ocden from the Philippine National Police (PNP) was also present. Also the human rights officer of the Police Regional Office-Cordillera attended.  Panelist from the AFP were composed of the following: General Leopoldo A. Imbang Jr. of the 503rd Brigade under the 5th Infantry Division, General Henry A. Robinson Jr. of the 702nd Brigade under 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, the officer of the 81st IB and an officer from the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO). It was attended by the People’s Organizations (POs) and community members from Tamboan in Besao, Aguid and Fidelisan in Sagada, and Saclit of Sadanga, Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA)- Mountain Province chapter and the CDPC.

CDPC is a holder of a project on human-rights based and multi-sectoral approach to food security in indigenous communities in the Cordillera and among its service areas is barangay Tamboan in partnership with CPA-Mountain Province chapter. Hence, CDPC engaged in the community dialogue. CDPC raised human rights issues, among these are the imprisonment and filing of charges against two civilian farmers publicly known as Persons with Disabilities (PWD) but have been  claimed by the AFP troops to be members of the NPA, the use of safe conduct pass and the encampments of AFP troops in civilian houses. For CDPC, the claim by an AFP officer encamped in houses in Dandanac that damages to civilians and their properties is part of collateral damage is a serious concern that should be seriously addressed.

During the dialogue, the CDPC reiterated the adherence to the principles and laws on human rights and international humanitarian laws, in particular on the protection of civilians and civilian objects. In this regard, CDPC offered its services in assisting capacity development of LGUs and their machineries for them to be able to play their roles in fulfilling and protecting human rights in the context of civil war.

Responses to the human rights concerns

On the issue of two civilian farmers arrested and charged of illegal possession of firearms, the PNP argued that the detention and filing of charges of the two civilians were within the bounds of the law. The PNP further argued that the prosecutor found probable cause thus the illegal possession of firearms was lodged. On the one hand, the barangay officials of Tamboan proposed that in incidents of arrest related to the suspicion of being member of the New People’s Army, the AFP should consider to first turn over the arrested person to or conduct dialogue with the barangay officials, in particular the Barangay Human Rights Action Team as a community mechanism for giving protection to innocent civilians from being arrested, detained and lodged charges.

In regards to the encampment of AFP troops in the communities, Provincial Director Ocden of PNP asked the villagers “to be considerate to the lives or situation of the soldiers.”  He stressed that the AFP and PNP “operates within the bound of the law and the community people should not curtail AFP’s performance of their duties and responsibilities.” According to Ocden, “human rights are not absolute.” The AFP affirmed that they will strictly comply on the prohibition of encampment in schools, health centers and places of worship.  However, the AFP repeatedly appealed that villagers must not deny the AFP from doing their duties.  The AFP further contended that barangay ordinances such as that of Tamboan that allows temporary shelter for armed troops only for 24 hours and the process prescribed under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act on free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) are valid only where there are no “lawless or armed elements.”   In situations where there are reported sightings of lawless or armed elements,” according to the AFP panelists, it is their duty to respond to the situation irrespective of barangay ordinances or FPIC processes.

On the issue of the safe conduct pass, Mayor Bantog reasoned out that the safe conduct pass was in response to the request of the people for them to go harvest their fields as it was harvest season. The Mayor said that the system of safe conduct pass will be withdrawn once the community will ask for it.

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Submission by the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera on the Community Based-Dialogue on Human Rights Issues

Bontoc, Mountain Province, August 16, 2018

Brief Background on CDPC

The Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera  (CDPC) is a consortium of development NGOs in the Cordillera Region founded in 1986 in support of the indigenous peoples’ struggle for the right to self-determination.  It was a concerted initiative to address the indigenous peoples’ particularity in economic marginalization, widespread development aggression such as destructive mining and energy projects and historic government neglect. CDPC was registered with the Philippines Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a non-profit-non-stock non-Government Organization in 1988.

CDPC is accredited as SWADA (Social Welfare and Development Agency) under the DSWD.  It also serves as NGO representative in initiative of the National Anti-Poverty Commission in the elaboration of a Road Map on the Conservation and Rehabilitation of Rice Terraces in the Cordillera.

Currently, CDPC is a holder of a project on human-rights based and multi-sectoral approach  to food security in indigenous communities in the Cordillera funded by the Province of East Flanders and the Official Development Aid of the Federal Government of Belgium.  Among its service areas is the barangay of Tamboan in partnership with the Cordillera People’s Alliance-Mountain Province Chapter.

 CDPC’s Concerns on the Human Rights in its Service Areas in Mountain Province

CDPC stands by the report of the Mountain Province Human Rights on the various human rights violations committed and the climate of fear  brought about by the occupation of the 81st IBPA in Dandanac, Tamboan, Besao.  In particular, we are alarmed of the following:

  1. imprisonment of and filing of charges against 2 civilian farmers claimed by the AFP troops to be members of the New People’s Army, specially so as the 2 civilians are publicly known as Persons With Disabilities
  2. at least 6 families/family heads left their village or relocated to their relatives due to fear
  3. encampment in civilian houses endangering the lives and properties of civilians which an AFP officer encamped in Danadanac claimed to be part of collateral damage
  4. use of surrenderee-rebels to sow terror among civilians
  5. imposition of safe conduct pass

Of particular concern by CDPC is that the same AFP unit, the 81st IBPA,  was involved in the filing of fabricated charges against our health program coordinator, Rachel Mariano.  Mariano was charged of murder, multiple and frustrated murder together with a protestant minister related to an AFP-NPA armed encounter in Patiacan, Quirino in November 2017.  The same AFP unit filed fabricated charges of 14 counts of frustrated and attempted homicide against Rachel Mariano together with 4 other women human rights defenders in relation to similarly armed clash by  the 81st IBPA with the NPA in Sigay and Salcedo in Ilocos Sur.   It is the same AFP unit that is using surrenderee-rebels to sow terror in our service areas in Tubo, Abra and Quirino, Ilocos Sur.

We are further extremely bothered by the Executive Order # 27 series 2018  signed and issued by the Governor of Mountain Province authorizing the AFP troops to implement  an unclear Community Support Program without securing Free, Prior and Informed Consent from the target communities as required under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.  In any case,  we welcome the inclusion of a safeguard measure in the EO to the effect of ensuring the protection of civilians and civilian properties, that of  prohibiting “camps or temporary dwellings near residential areas, specifically plazas, barangay halls, churches, schools and areas where people usually mingle together.”  To our good Governor, please know that the AFP troops violated this safeguard provision.  Soldiers are currently occupying residential houses near the church, schools, day care center, all within areas where residents live and mingle together.

From our understanding of the EO, our good Governor is relinguishing the role of local governments on poverty alleviation to the AFP, in particular the 81st IBPA.  This is what we call militarization of development services or a state where civilian functions are being implemented by military troops.  Apart from using development services for non-development objectives, in particular in controlling the people, we are seriously concerned of the risk attached in situations where armed soldiers will mingle with civilian authorities and civilians in the conduct of community support program.

Similarly, we are bothered by the participation of the Municipal Mayor of Besao and the Barangay Captain of Tamboan in issuing a safe conduct pass.   The safe conduct pass contains a list of 55 residents who shall present the pass together with an identification card or resident certificate when requested.  Apart from violation of the fundamental freedom of movement and disrupting the normal course of lives of the populace, the safe conduct pass serves as potential license for AFP troops to indiscriminately apprehend and interrogate civilians and arrest, detain and file charges against those without the pass.  It is one source of fear among the people.

CDPC’s Proposal for Ensuring Safety of Civilians and Civilian Properties

The safest guarantee for civilians is the absence of AFP troops in their communities.  CDPC thus supports the call by the Cordillera People’s Alliance for the withdrawal of AFP troops in the province.  We encourage the LGUs to instead support the call for the resumption of peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP where the basic problems on poverty,  community support program and the like are to be addressed.  The supposed substantive agenda of the peace talk is on the Comprehensive Agreement for Social and Economic Reforms, followed by or simultaneous with political reforms which will pave the process of cessation of hostilities.

Meanwhile, CDPC stresses on the urgency of instituting clearer safeguard measures for the protection of civilians in the course of the AFP presence in the province.  We urge the good Governor to further elaborate measures on strict compliance of the AFP troops to International Humanitarian Laws and to ensure accountabilities when violations occur.  It is also the bounden duty of the local government bodies to set measures on the provision of support to victims and survivors.

For the good Mayor of  Besao, we call for the revocation of the safe conduct pass.

We ask from the Commission on Human Rights to elaborate on the legality or consistency of the safe conduct pass within the framework human rights principles and laws.

It is also extremely important for us that the AFP and the LGUs as well should make a distinction between civilians and combatants of the New People’s Army and a distinction between direct participation in armed hostilities from that of political activities conducted within the bounds of legal statutes.  The CDPC and its community partners are legal entities implementing programs within the Philippine legal system.  We enjoin the LGUs to stand by their obligations to protect civilians, the CDPC included, from the practice of branding development workers and community partners as NPAs or supporters of NPAs and at worst implicating us in clearly armed hostilities.  Towards this end, the CDPC offers its services in assisting capacity development  of LGUs and their machineries to be able to play their roles in fulfilling and protecting human rights and for communities and their organizations to assert their human rights in the context of a civil war.

Finally, CDPC expresses its thanks to the Commission on Human Rights for the timely conduct of this dialogue.  We look forward for a substantive dialogue and succeeding monitoring of the human rights situation in the province.

For reference:

Rhoda Dalang

Executive Director-CDPC