Arakan villagers want military out

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/24 October) — Displaced families from a remote village in Arakan, North Cotabato demanded the pullout of military troops due to alleged human rights violations.

The latest, they said, was last Thursday when elements of the Army 10th Special Forces conducted clearing operations at Sitio Lumbo in Barangay Cabalantian that led to the killing of a farmer and the arrest of two suspected members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).

Killed was Ramon Batoy, a peasant leader who, according to Lt. Col. Joven Gonzales of the 57th Infantry Battalion, was Commander Dario of NPA Front 53 operating in North Cotabato and Bukidnon provinces.

The Army arrested Noli Badol and Celso Batoy, Ramon’s eldest brother, for being alleged members of the NPA’s ‘Milisya ng Bayan’.

The villagers, however, denied the Army’s accusation. They said the slain Batoy was a leader of the farmers group in Cabalantian, which is affiliated with the Arakan Progressive Peasants Organization.

They reiterated their statement in a meeting on Saturday with Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and Cotabato 2nd district Rep. Nancy Catamco at the wake of Fr. Fausto Tentorio.

Batoy’s widow, Gemma, told Robredo that they want justice for her husband’s death.

She said that when soldiers entered their village last Thursday the soldiers hit her husband with a rifle butt.

“I saw it myself. If he was indeed a rebel, he should have used a gun.  But he only carried a bolo”, she said in the vernacular.

Gemma also said that aside from her house, seven other houses nearby were also riddled with bullets coming from the soldiers.

She denied there were rebels in their village so it was unlikely that an encounter took place.

She said the firearms and explosive the soldiers allegedly recovered from their house were not theirs.

“We all know how the soldiers operate. They planted those firearms and explosive so they would have enough reasons to pin us down. But these are all lies,” said Gemma.

Villagers have sought refuge in the town’s parish, about 15 kilometers away from the barangay. Reports said at least 48 families evacuated to the town proper.

Arakan, located in the boundary of the provinces of North Cotabato and Bukidnon, falls under the 57th and 38th Infantry Battalions. The 10th Special Forces is under the operational control of the 57th IB, according to Col. Gonzales.

Catamco said that although Secretary Robredo did not make a categorical statement on the demand for a pullout of the military, he assured the villagers he would have the case investigated by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

“In fact, the Secretary has already called up CHR chairman Etta Rosales to look into the issue,” she said.

The NPA Front 53 has belied the Army’s claims that Badol, the slain Batoy and his brother were rebels.

Rebel spokesperson Isabel Santiago said the 602nd Brigade has “shed off the vestiges of the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan” as an “anti-people counter-revolutionary program” of the present administration. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)

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