Panlantaw* Feature | HR Group, HRV Victims Call to Disband 19th IB Anew

HR Group, HRV Victims Call to Disband 19th IB Anew

The 19th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, branded as “massacre battalion” by human rights organizations in Eastern Visayas (EV), is caught in yet another controversy after a married woman from Tunga, Leyte cried rape against one of its soldiers.

According to Atty. Kathrina Castillo, head of the documentation & legal services committee of Katungod-SB-KARAPATAN, the married woman complained of being raped by a soldier from the 19th IB. “Rape is an offense which carries with it the stigma against the victim. Such accusation is never easy to pronounce considering the effect it will have to the victim,” said Castillo.

Conversely, Kenneth Perez, the Deputy Secretary-General of Katungod-SB said, “this is a clear proof that the 19th IB continues to violate human rights in whatever places they are assigned to. It has been a culture within their ranks to do and evade the crime later because of impunity. But the rape case cannot be easily dismissed as mere propaganda.”

Meanwhile, when interviewed by the local media, lead officials of the 19th IB declared that the incident is an “isolated case” and “cannot affect the present peace & development efforts” implemented by IPSP Bayanihan. IPSP Bayanihan or Oplan Bayanihan is the new counter-insurgency program of the Aquino administration that employs the strategy of “winning the peace” rather than killing the enemy.

Reports from Katungod state that said military man is stationed in Tunga as a ‘peace & development worker’ as a member of a “peace & development team,” a term replacing the ‘Reengineered Special Operations Team (RSOT)’ of previous Arroyo regime‘s counter insurgency plan Oplan Bantay Laya.

The woman already filed legal charges against the suspect. However, the military personnel has remained in army custody for “internal investigation.” The soldier involved has denied the allegation earlier.

Katungod has “condemned in the strongest possible terms the bestial act made by the soldier from the 19th IB and again calls for the immediate dismantling of the 19th Infantry Battalion.”

 

For Peace and Development?

“Peace & development teams” (PDT) are programmed under Oplan Bayanihan to “give a civilian feature” to the counter-insurgency program of the government which has been usually brutal and militaristic in approach. PDTs would play the role of “giving social services to the people” that is normally a task of civilian government units.

There are PDTs belonging to the 82nd Civil Military Operations (CMO) Company deployed lately in eight villages of Tunga. Its presence boosts the arsenal of military forces in Leyte province; while the First Special Forces Company from Bohol and the 78th Infantry Battalion from Cebu compose the additional military units recently deployed to other parts of Leyte as force multipliers to the 19th IB.

Further inquiries done by Katungod-SB indicate that the implicated soldier is a member of the 82nd CMO Company. It takes command from the 19th IB based in Kananga, Leyte under Lieutenant Col. Federico Tutaan as commanding officer.

 

19th IB, Out of EV!

Human rights group together with HRV victims in the region has reiterated their call to dismantle the 19th IB. The same army unit is charged with the killing of Professor Leonard Co and his two companions last November 15, 2010 in Kananga, Leyte.

The 19th IB has a so-called “bloodstained history” since it was deployed in Eastern Visayas. Their first deployment was in 1985 at Northern Samar. It was first activated by the Marcos dictatorship as the 19th Infantry “Commando” Battalion at the height of the secessionist movement in the southern Mindanao areas.

According to KARAPATAN 2010 Year-End Report, the earliest documented massacre committed by the 19th IB was in January 28, 1999 at Palapag, Northern Samar when a family of five were killed and branded as victims to an encounter with the NPA rebels. Victims were members of a peasant family including peasant Ermito Nuguit, 52 years old, pregnant wife Delia and their three sons.

From Northern Samar, the military unit was deployed to Zamboanga City and in Jolo to augment the combat forces against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). They returned to Eastern Visayas in March 2002 and located their temporary base in Ormoc, Leyte. Their base was later transferred to Brgy. Aguiting in Kananga, Leyte.

In less than a year on April 16, 2003, they committed the “second massacre” in Sitio Mahayahay, Brgy. San Isidro of Kananga, Leyte. It took the lives of nine innocent civilians including four minors, a pregnant woman and one former local barangay councilor.

It was learned that the victims were shot at close range. The fact-finding mission conducted on May 30 to June 3, 2003 identified the victims as members of people’s organizations who were “summarily executed despite their immobility and helplessness.” The incident came to be known now as the first Kananga massacre.

Two years after, Major General Jovito S. Palparan who is branded as the “Butcher” general, was assigned to Eastern Visayas (EV). EV was a priority area of Oplan Bantay Laya 1 when Palparan took command of the 8th Infantry Division from February 10 to August 25, 2005. Despite criticisms from among activist groups, Palparan was promoted many times by AFP Commander-in-Chief Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Numerous cases of HRVs were recorded during Palparan’s reign in EV. HRVs come in the form of summary executions of legal personalities and mostly peasants in remote villages of Samar and Leyte. Enforced disappearances (ED) and mass evacuations of civilians due to militarization were also noted.

The significant increase in HRVs during Palparan did not stop the spate of killings and other HRVs in the region. Shortly after his displacement from EV, the 19th IB has been implicated with another mass killing in November 21, 2005. The victims were among the 50 farmers participating in a “balik-uma” activity in a portion of land awarded to them as CARP beneficiaries.

Farmers were preparing breakfast at around 5:00 am when men in bonnets and ski masks shot them. They pleaded for mercy and cried that they were civilians, but they were still attacked with gunfire and hand grenades. Seven peasants died on the spot including a pregnant woman. One died in the hospital.

Based on the same document from KARAPATAN, “Colonel Louie Dagoy admitted that the 19th IB was responsible for the attack,” but claimed it was a legitimate encounter between the army and the rebels. Eight more farmers were charged with illegal assembly and illegal possession of firearms. Another one died while in jail. The incident is known now as the Palo Massacre.

In a similar incident in Villaba, Leyte on July 22, 2007, four were killed including a twelve-year old boy, his mother and father. Men from the 19th IB intruded their house, mauled the father on accusation of being an NPA member. They were ordered to lay flat on the ground then afterwards, gunshots were heard. Only the 14-year old girl, who managed to run out of the house, was able to tell what happened to her family.

 

Disband the 19th IB now!

In the course of active implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya in EV, the 19th IB has declared it was winning the counter-insurgency war in Leyte particularly in the towns of Kananga, Matagob, Palompon, Isabel, Merida, Tabango and some parts of Ormoc City. This is according to a statement of Lieutenant Col. Henry Bumiltac. The AFP has also made some pronouncements declaring the province of Leyte as “insurgency free” in 2008.

However, in 2010, despite the pronouncement made by army officials declaring Leyte as insurgency-free, the second Kananga massacre took place. It victimized the renowned scientist and UP Professor Leonard Co together with his two companions. The military unit blamed their death to elements of the NPA who had an alleged encounter with the army forces.

Lieutenant Col. Federico Tutaan who is 19th IB’s commanding officer until now issued various statements one after another.

The first statement said that they were victims of an encounter with the NPA, with no further explanations yet. The next statement said they were surely “caught in crossfire with the NPA.” The third statement, seconded by the Department of Justice’s Special Investigating Panel said they were “killed by the NPA” and the army forces did not see them near the alleged “firefight.”

Ten days after the killings, scientists and colleagues of Professor Leonard Co initiated a fact-finding mission. It was joined in by members affiliated to the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) and the Justice for Leonard Co Movement. The case caught nationwide attention and massive condemnation.

According to KARAPATAN, the 33-member fact-finding team was composed of scientists, experts, environmental advocates, human rights workers, journalists and some UP students. They visited the site of the incident and concluded there was no indication of crossfire. The FFM Report concluded, “The military shooters were positioned on top of the ridge and firing toward Co’s team…the military unit also failed to provide immediate medical attention or hospital treatment for Borromeo which ultimately led to his bleeding to death.”

 

Justice be served

        Various personalities brand Leyte the “massacre capital” of the Philippines after four “notorious mass killings” attributed to only one military unit—the 19th Infantry Battalion. Last December 10, 2011, more than 500 protesters marched the streets of Tacloban City calling to dismantle the 19th IB. Mainly members of Justice for Leonard Co Movement compose the protesters including multi-sectoral formation BAYAN.

“Our incessant call to dismantle the 19th IB is a campaign against impunity. We shall ceaselessly seek retribution to the violated and demand for the immediate prosecution of perpetrators. For the numerous cases of HRVs, the 19th IB has never been prosecuted even once, thus we call on everyone who adhere to the protection of human rights, truth and justice to unite with us. Disband the 19th IB now and serve justice to all,” concluded Kenneth Perez of Katungod. (Article contributed by AL)

 

References:

Reports from Leyte Samar Daily Express

KARAPATAN 2010 Year-End Report

 

*Panlantaw is the official publication of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Eastern Visayas.

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