Groups decry ‘militarization’ of Cabinet as threat to peasants, IPs
■ Karen Ann Macalalad
Several groups have opposed the recent appointment of two military officials to executive posts following the widespread militarization of indigenous communities and unabated killings of peasants over the past years.
President Rodrigo Duterte named current Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Eduardo Año as new Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary, two days after placing ex-military chief Roy Cimatu as the Department of Environment and Resources secretary on May 8.
Año will replace acting DILG Secretary Catalino Cuy while Cimatu assumed the position of anti-mining advocate Gina Lopez whose nomination was rejected by the Commission on Appointments (CA) on May 3.
While the government pursues the peace negotiations’ resumption, there is an equal resistance from the military to turn the government’s leadership orientation against the marginalized sectors, said Joana Jaime, campaign director of national minority group KATRIBU.
At least 10 military and ex-military officers hold key government positions under the Duterte administration, including AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya as head of the National Irrigation Administration and Gen. Emmanuel Bautista as undersecretary.
Even during his early stint as president, Duterte has been vocal in selecting military men over civilian for government posts. Military members follow orders quickly unlike civilians who are “lazy,” the president reportedly said on September 17.
But most of the appointed generals have committed cases of human rights violations against civilians, human rights group Karapatan stated. Año was allegedly involved in the abduction and disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos in 2007 and the killing spree of Lumad and illegal arrests of activists during his term as the 10th Infantry Division-Philippine Army commanding officer in Mindanao, Karapatan cited.
Meanwhile, Cimatu led the implementation of the counter insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya of the Arroyo term from May to September 2002 which killed peasants, workers, and anti-mining advocates. He also created the Task Force Lumad in 1994 to counter the Ata-Manobo’s resistance to the massive logging operations of the Alsons Company owned by the Alcantara clan in Mindanao, the environment advocate Kalikasan Network stated.
“This is exactly how impunity prevails, when rights violators are accorded medals and positions, while victims and their families are left without an iota of justice,” Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
Despite the peace talks’ resumption, the AFP has failed to uphold the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) which is a key peace document signed in 1998 to protect civilian rights, according to the national minority groups.
Human rights violations have further escalated after the AFP unveiled on January 6 its counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, which replaced the Oplan Bayanihan of the Aquino term that left 332 victims of extrajudicial killlings, Karapatan stated.
“If the AFP and State security forces under the Duterte administration will have the same framework and approach of the past regimes and with their fascist and mercenary character, the Filipino people will continue to experience unpeace in communities,” Palabay said.
As of press time, 23 national minorities and peasants are victims of extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s watch, while 15,379 individuals were reportedly affected by the AFP’s bombing operations in the communities. On March 31, the 28th Infantry Battalion fired at least five bombs in Brgy. Tagbinunga in Mati, Davao Oriental resulting to the forced evacuation of 170 families including the Lumad.
A total of 24,379 were also forced to evacuate from their ancestral lands and schools due to intensified military operations. Militia are in place to counter any resistance of national minorities to logging, mining, and agribusiness operations in their ancestral domains, said Anabelle Campos, a coordinator of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur.
Even schools have been targeted by military men who tag instructors as members of the New People’s Army, Campos added. “’Yung mga schools ay susi ng daluyan ng pagkamulat ng mga Lumad lalo na sa pagpapasya. Ang mga alternative schools ay nagtuturo sa tunay na kalagayan ng bansa,” she said.
With the increasing trend of political repression, sectoral groups have demanded the government to stop its all-out war and Oplan Kapayapaan. They called for the confirmation of Judy Taguiwalo and Rafael Mariano as Social and Welfare Development secretary and Agrarian Reform secretary, respectively, believing they hold a pro-poor track record.
However, the CA has again bypassed Taguiwalo and Mariano, stating that it is yet to deliberate on a resolution filed by Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV aiming to review the rule on secret voting. The resolution came in after the rejection of Gina Lopez’s appointment, when at least nine members have claimed to have voted in favor of Lopez even if the vote count was 16-18.
The delays in the confirmation are due to Taguiwalo’s stand against the practice of patronage pork barrel that has long been proven unconstitutional and Mariano’s plans to push for a genuine land reform, the multi-sectoral organization BAYAN claimed. “Congressional posts are being used to uphold and defend ruling class interests against forces pushing for reforms in social services, land reform and the environment,” the group stated.
“Magpapatuloy tayo sa panawagan na ‘wag i-install ang mga opisyal (na militar) kahit dati na silang may posisyon sa gobyerno. Lalo na ngayon ang karakter ng AFP ay anti-mamamayan at nasa frontline ng pagprotekta ng mining interests,” Jaime said. ■
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