72nd IB’s hamletting of peasants in Culaman Valley in Bukidnon is NTF-ELCAC and ATC’s fascist sleight of hand in action—PKM-SMR
BRGY. WHITE CULAMAN, KITAOTAO, BUKIDNON—They were coerced with the promise of freedom but were locked up instead.
Nine farmers, eight Manobo and one Ilonggo, are currently being unlawfully detained in a local Paanakan center (lying-in clinic) of a peasant community here, after being coerced to “voluntarily surrender” to troops of the 72nd Infantry Battalion over trumped-up charges.
The farmers, who prior to their recent arrest and detention were living in other neighboring villages, had initially learned that warrants for their arrest have been issued in early January. Their families and relatives were told that the farmers’ cases would be resolved if they voluntarily submit themselves to 72nd IB troops currently occupying Brgy. White Culaman. The soldiers told them that the nine farmers have been charged with illegal possession of firearms, frustrated murder and murder.
By early March, the farmers came to the village one by one. To their surprise, the awaiting soldiers subsequently arrested and detained them.
The 72nd IB told the local government unit and the tribal council to mediate on its behalf in order to deceive the farmers to consent to the grievously unlawful affair, promising to provide legal assistance as they supposedly await the “legal process.”
For almost a month now, the nine detained farmers have been guarded by armed soldiers, their movement restricted within the premises of the center and barred from going out to make a living. The soldiers gave no definite period on how long the farmers would be detained, only vague assurances that their case were still being “processed.”
Frustrated over the prolonged captivity and with no other means to support themselves, the families of the nine farmers were forced to join them in detention. “What with the pandemic and the skyrocketing of the prices of basic commodities, we had no choice. We will go hungry,” a member of one of the families reportedly said.
Even then, only the spouses and children of the nine farmers were allowed to go out of the center and find work under very limited and monitored schedule.
“Fascist sleight of hand”
Restituto P. Baguer, spokesperson of the revolutionary peasant organization PKM in Southern Mindanao, condemned the hamletting of the nine peasants and their families, saying this was the “fascist sleight of hand” of Duterte’s recent Anti-Terror Council Resolution No. 28 and the NTF-ELCAC’s relentless terror-tagging of patriotic organizations, legal activists and even unarmed civilians.
ATC Resolution No. 28, issued on January 22 but published only a month later, declared as “terrorist” 16 patriotic and democratic organizations allied with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
“The fascist soldiers no longer need to fabricate an elaborate story of armed encounters or plant firearms anymore. They just need to accuse, without evidence, peasants and Lumad as members of any revolutionary or patriotic mass organization in order to arrest and detain them. State terrorism against non-combatants and unarmed civilians has taken a turn for the worse,” declared Baguer.
He also added that Lumad and peasants in the rural and hinterland villages under AFP’s focused military operations are especially vulnerable to abuses by state forces. “The AFP is notorious in controlling and distorting the flow of information, even going as far as fabricating fake news, when its elements commit grave human rights violations against civilians.”
He cited the incident in October 2021 where a drunk soldier shot and wounded several civilians following an illegal gambling game gone awry in Brgy. Calapaton in Kitaotao. “The media, even the local radio stations, did not carry the story because the AFP implemented a news blackout,” Baguer said.
Long history of persecution
The arrest and detention is not the first for the nine farmers. In August 2015, they had also been included in the arrest of 15 farmers, five of whom were minors, who were later detained inside the headquarters of the 19th IB in Maramag, Bukidnon. They were released 22 days later when the trumped-up charges against them were dropped for lack of evidence.
Like many peasants and Lumad around the region, they have long suffered the terror-tagging, harassment and intimidation by AFP troops. Baguer also pointed out the similar case of the Duterte regime’s legal blackmail against ten peasant individuals in Paquibato District in Davao City in early 2021.
He said that in the case of the Paquibato 10, the peasants were forced to surrender in order to clear their names from false criminal charges. The case was dropped less than two weeks later for lack of evidence, after the peasants surrendered to the 27th IB and Sara Duterte’s insidious Peace 911, the city’s local iteration of the NTF-ELCAC.
“The White Culaman peasants will surely share the same fate as the Paquibato 10. Their case will be thrown out because it has no legal basis to begin with, but only on the condition that they admit to being members of patriotic mass organizations and surrender as supporters of the NPA,” Baguer concluded.