By Ellson Quismorio
Makabayan Bloc lawmakers strongly condemned on Monday what they called the prolonged military operations in various towns in the province of Samar.
ACT Teachers Party-List Reps. Antonio Tinio and France Castro charged that the persisting military activities have been forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes, with some taking refuge at a covered court.
According to reports from human rights group Katungod Sinirangan Bisayas (KSB), the three-month military operations of the 87th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army (IBPA) have resulted to civilian evacuations from the villages of Hagbay, Can-aponte, San Nicolas and San Pedro in Samar.
KSB said that, as of March 25, there were already 454 women, 11 of whom are pregnant; 454 men; and 424 children staying at the designated evacuation center. Sixty six of the evacuees are senior citizens.
The number of evacuees has ballooned to 300 families from just 42 last March 17.
“We condemn the continued military operations in the villages of Hagbay, Can-aponte, San Nicolas and San Pedro in Samar that have forced thousands of civilians to take refuge as the 87th IBPA have been camping inside the community premises,” Tinio said.
“There have also been reports that the military is using at least six civilian houses as their military barracks while the more than 300 families have been demanding for the [immediate pullout of] the military troops in their communities,” he added.
Human rights violations
Castro noted that it was already the fourth civilian evacuation induced by the 87th IBPA under the Duterte administration.
“Militarization in communities has resulted in more human rights violations and attacks against civilian activists and legal organizations tagged by the military as terrorist groups,” she said.
“With the recent Negros Massacre where 14 farmers were killed in tokhang style operations, the communities in Samar where the military has been conducting operations fear for their safety and security,” Castro further claimed.
The militant congressmen claimed that the intensifying militarization of Eastern Visayas is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s counter-insurgency Memorandum Circular 32, which allegedly targets civilians under the so-called Oplan Kapayapaan and the tokhang anti-drug campaign.
“The harassment and the prolonged difficult situation caused by the military encampment [on] the civilian people of Samar is the responsibility of the Duterte administration. No less than the President should be accountable,” stressed Castro.
Tinio, in this regard, slammed one-time Makabayan ally Duterte for “propagating a worsening culture of impunity and acts of lawless violence.”
“We echo the demand of the people of Samar to immediately pull out the military troops in their communities and allow them to return to their homes…The people do not need intensified military and police presence in communities, they need protection from state terrorism under the Duterte administration,” he concluded.