501st IBde pesters the people of Cagayan
The National Democratic Front (NDF)-Cagayan recently refuted the 501st IBde’s claims of “victory” against the revolutionary movement in the region in the first half of 2023. They said the trophies boasted of by the brigade only brought widespread harm to the people. These were won through violence, an iron-fist policy and sowing of terror and fear among the peasant masses and minorities in the countryside.
The latest of these grave human rights violations include the brigade’s spearheading of focused military operations from February to May this year. At the drumbeat of the 5th ID and Task Force Tala, it laid siege on East Cagayan using 2,000 combined military, paramilitary and police forces.
The declared aim of the operation was to “completely decimate” the “remaining Red fighters” in the province in the first half of the year. This is part of the wishful thinking of the rotten state to crush the revolutionary movement, as well their security support for Balikatan 2023, the biggest war exercises launched during the first quarter of the year. This is also part of the US strategy to turn Northeast Luzon into a launching pad for war and draw the country to its war preparations against China. This will certainly bring double suffering for the people of Cagayan, who are likely the first to bear China’s reprisal.
Military forces were mainly deployed to Baggao where people are carrying out militant actions against usury, as well as in the foothills of Northeast Cagayan where a US radar base was said to be established under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The battalions of the 501st IBde were used to sow terror in the towns of Lal-lo, Buguey, Sta. Teresita, Gonzaga and Sta. Ana.
In three months, at least 30 bombs, rockets and artillery shells were released near communities and farms. This resulted in the destruction of people’s livelihood and caused fear especially among children and elderly who since had trouble sleeping due to trauma.
Within this same period, the 501st IBde and Provincial Task Force-Elcac in Cagayan declared the “surrender” of 21 people along with alleged weapons. NDF-Cagayan refuted the claim and said that of the 21 who “surrendered”, five were declared captured, five were recycled or have long left the people’s army but are still being paraded repeatedly. Others were hunted despite having long left the army and should be considered civilians under international humanitarian laws. Majority of them suffered from threats and intimidation, while others were outrightly deceived, to force their “surrender” despite being no longer part of the people’s army.
In April 2022, elements of the brigade summarily killed Saturnino Agunoy (Ka Peping) and two medics Augusto Gayagas (Ka Val) and Mark Canta (Ka Uno) along the road in Piat, Cagayan. The three were unarmed and in no position to fight, especially the two senior citizens, Agunoy and Gayagas.
From where did the 501st IBde originate?
The reconstituted 501st IBde was deployed to Cagayan and adjacent Apayao in October 2020 after six months of training. According to the 5th ID, the brigade’s mother division, the main objective of reactivating the brigade is to “relate with local governments and agencies in the two provinces working with the National Task Force-Elcac and ending the insurgency.” The brigade’s headquarters is located in Lal-lo, Cagayan, which is among the US’ “EDCA locations.”
Under the brigade is the 17th IB and 77th IB, which served as combat forces in Mindanao. BGen. Ferdinand Melchor C. dela Cruz currently serves as its commander. He was appointed to the post on February 23 and on July 3 was promoted along with 15 other generals. Dela Cruz is part of the Philippine Military Academy Tanglaw-Diwa Class of 1992 and previously served in the 5th ID as its intelligence officer.