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AHRC urges for an impartial investigation on the killing of 8 farmers in Leyte

Paranas residents rally against communism

Samareños to oppose Enrile-owned logging firm operations in Samar

Gov. Tan mum on solving perennial flooding in Samar

Peace rallyists brave the rain to oppose communism

NPA attacked SAMELCO personnel

Reported case of Meningococcemia in Samar kills 1

Foreign human rights community looks into Samar’s military atrocities

Thousands join Peace Rally in Samar’s capital

Samareños want lasting peace


Government must end delay and act to protect citizens' rights

Press Release by
Asian Human Rights Commission
December 9, 2005

HONG KONG  – The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on Wednesday criticised the lack of anti-torture legislation, weak witness protection, extra-judicial killings, and poor complaint mechanism in the Philippines in a report on the country marking Human Rights Day.

"The [Philippine government's] response to these and other grave issues concerning human rights in the country has so far been characterised by inaction and a lack of proper direction," the Hong Kong-based rights group said in a letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.

"The government must take genuine and effective measures to implement laws that will help prevent the blatant violations of human rights that are currently sweeping the country."

The AHRC has issued a report on human rights in the Philippines as part of a series on 10 Asian countries, released on the occasion of Human Rights Day.

Although the Philippines has ratified the Convention against Torture, torture is not a crime according to the country's present laws. The AHRC has called on the Philippine President and lawmakers to accelerate legislation against torture.

"It is becoming increasingly obvious that getting away with murder in the Philippines is made easy by the absence of any functioning witness protection scheme," the AHRC also noted.

According to the AHRC's report on the Philippines, existing provisions for witness protection in the country cannot stop state agents from intimidating and even killing witnesses before they testify, and the authorities have made no serious effort to address this issue.

The AHRC also highlighted 20 separate extra-judicial killings of human rights defenders and political activists in 2005.

"The combined effect of [the current administration's] inaction and unhelpful public statements is to suggest that the killing of political opponents and human rights activists is of no concern, and may even be beneficial to the country's internal security and social order," the AHRC warned.

To aggravate these problems, the state human rights commission set up to redress them does not have a performance pledge to efficiently and effectively resolve complaints of violations.

The AHRC reported this September that village officials and officials of the Municipal Department of Social Welfare and Development reprimanded families of farmers in Alabel, Sarangani suffering from hunger and starvation after the families voiced their desperation.

The AHRC has called on the UN High Commissioner to pressure the Philippine government for change in these and other human rights issues.

Referring to its calls for sweeping administrative, police and judicial reforms, the AHRC said that, "Only when the government of the Philippines takes these recommendations seriously will human rights begin to receive the respect that they so urgently require."





SP endorses small-scale mining operations in Samar island-town

December 7, 2005

CATBALOGAN, Samar – The entire provincial board members of this province, in a unanimous decision, has approved a resolution endorsing the conduct of a “surface mining” of manganese in this island town of Daram, one of the 25 municipalities of this province.

Taking no fear that it might create another tension here as anti-mining and logging advocates who showed a “strong avalanche of force” during their last year’s historic island-wide anti-mining caravan that prompted the government to upheld the earlier mining applicants, the provincial board still endorsed the mining operations here.

But in a press conference held after their regular session on Tuesday, December 6, the SP members led by Vice-Governor Jesus B. Redaja explained to the public through the tri-media here about their reasons why they approved the said mining operations.

“There was no single reason for us not to approve the request (for mining) in this island,” says VG Redaja.

The Documents

According to VG Redaja, the request of a certain Serafia Cobarubias to operate a small-scale mining in Daram, Samar, particularly in the villages of Locob-lokob, Iquiran and Casaganay was supported with all necessary documents being required by law.

The second highest official of the province cited these documents as the Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), barangay and municipal ordinances and resolutions, and the endorsement coming from the provincial environment officer of Samar.

“The province has even accepted the extraction fees paid by Cobarubias,” VG Redaja said explaining that before they move for the approval, public safety and public consultations to the affected villages were held.

Atty. Rogelio T. Casurao, chairman of the SP Committee on Laws and Legal Matters said members of his committees and the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources chaired by Susano Salurio “collectively agreed” to give due course to the application considering some existing national laws and jurisprudence.

“(And) in view of the dictum of the Supreme Court which has sustained the legality of mining operation subject to the regulatory powers of the state… there seems to be no legal obstacle and that the documentation required are complete, and is duly supported by Barangay resolutions, we (committees members) favorably approved the application,” Casurao said.

As this developed, the resolution authorizing Caborubias, a native of Gandara Samar, to operate a small-scale mining of manganese in three Daram villages subject to the provisions of Presidential Decree No. 1121 and 1586, DENR Administrative Order 2003-30 and other existing laws on the matter, was approved.

Exclusion from the 50-year moratorium

To recall, these SP members fought intensely against the Bauxite Resources Inc. (BRI) when the latter attempted to conduct mining operations in the towns of San Jorge, Gandara, Matuguinao and San Jose de Buan, all in Samar, early last year.

They even wrote the DENR central office to cancel the permit issued by the DENR regional office attaching the 50-year mining moratorium, Presidential Proclamation 442 declaring the 333,300 hectares in Samar as Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), and the resolution coming from the Regional Development Council in Eastern Visayas.

“This island town of Daram is not included in the list of towns covered by their ordinance imposing a 50-year mining moratorium a year ago. In fact, there were no river here that can be possibly affected,” SP Member Salurio stressed.

In the 50-year mining moratorium, “it is clear there that we do not allow the large-scale mining in most Samar towns, because the 25 major river systems that provide clean water to 1.5 million island residents can be affected,” Salurio said.

It was learned that government officials here replicated in three Samar provinces and 35 towns, and with about 319 upland barangays the 50-year mining moratorium, as influenced by church leaders and environmentalists here.

Picking it out like money

SP Majority Floor Leader Antonio Bolastig, who, along with the VG Redaja and other SPs, visited the area, informed that the residents of these towns are seemed lucky for their God given resources as anyone can pick manganese as he can and sell it.

“It’s everywhere in the villages, we arrived there and saw villagers carrying sacks of manganese to their respective homes,” Bolastig narrated.

He added: “Actually, its not like mining anymore, they are like marketing, because it’s no need for them to dig, dynamite or process anymore. They’re picking it out like money.”

It was learned that any residents could go to the area, gather manganese and sell the same to the one who asked application to the SP Samar. Cobarubias’s firm was there to help and assist, buy the manganese directly from the residents.

The SP officials estimated that each resident would earn as high as P300-500 per day. They also dismissed the apprehension of some observers that residents might be affected in their health saying, “it has no foul odor, and is one of the non-radioactive mineral.”





Pull-out of the 19th IB in EV sought; probe on Palo incident looms

November 27, 2005

CATBALOGAN, Samar  –  Amid the calls of the militant groups for the immediate pull-out of the Army's 19th Infantry Battalion out in Eastern Visayas region, different investigation groups here vowed to probe the incident.

As this developed, the National Democratic Front in Eastern Visayas has joined other major militant groups here calling for the immediate “arrest, prosecution and punishment” of military involved in the recent killing incident in Palo, Leyte.

The military involved, composed of 19 soldiers, belong to the 19th Infantry Battalion based in Brgy. Aguiting, Kananga, Leyte. The team led by Lt. Adrian Luel Benedicto is being accused for allegedly firing at unarmed innocent civilians killing 10 persons.

The aftermath of the November 21 killing incident in Palo Leyte, which the military claimed as a “legitimate firefight” triggered militant groups in the region -- the Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas and the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamalakaya ng Pilipinas -- to “demobilize” the 19th IB and proposed the pullout of the troop, as part of the 8th Infantry Division based here.

Fr. Santiago Salas, spokesperson of the NDF in Eastern Visayas assailed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, being the commander-in-chief, for not giving attention to the complaints of the poor peasants against the numerous human rights complaints against the military in this region.

Meanwhile, Alex Lagunzad, spokesperson of the Katungod Sinirangan Bisayas, a human rights advocate based in Tacloban City said this incident in Palo Leyte is the third “massacres” perpetrated by the 19th IB since 1998.

He said the 19th IB had been linked to the so-called “Mogus Massacre” in 1998 and the Kananga Massacre” in 2003.

Lagunzad explained that the “Mogus Massacre” occurred on September 11, 1998 at Sitio Mogus, Barangay Kapakohan, Palapag, Northern Samar where a family – a couple and two children – were allegedly killed while sleeping inside their mosquito net.

On the other hand, he said, the “Kananga Massacre” took place on April 16, 2003 at Barangay San Isidro, Kananga, Leyte where nine people were also killed by “shooting at closed range one after the other.” Lagunzad, however, admitted that two of them were indeed NPA members but the seven were not.

Other militant groups said the officers and elements responsible for the (Kananga) massacre were never prosecuted and punished. Instead, the battalion commander then was rewarded by the Arroyo administration, by being sent for military schooling to the US, preparatory to his promotion.

Lagunzad said his group, among other investigating bodies are now gathering more evidences to support their claims. Officials of the 19th IB, however, dismissed these allegations saying these were all “baseless and mere fabricated black propaganda.”

Fr. Salas, referring on the latest incident in Palo, Leyte, slammed the government's reports that they had a “45-minute encounter” with the New People's Army (NPA) and “confiscated” a few inferior firearms and documents, and that the “military is quick at inventing fake threats” from the NPA to justify mowing down defenseless civilians with impunity.

“What had happened in Leyte was seems like occurred in Hacienda Luisita in Central Luzon, all the victims were unarmed innocent civilians that includes women and children… and they are not rebels, as alleged by the military,” Fr. Salas said.

The rebel priest stood pat that “no encounter” happened because there were no NPA fighters deployed in the peasant community, and because the NPA is well-oriented to refrain from joining civilian activities and will never put the lives of civilians in danger.

Capt. Cromwell Danganan, commanding officer of the 8ID Civil Affairs Unit earlier claimed that the incident was a “legitimate operations” as they received information that some members of the outlawed New People's Army were in the area.

Danganan, who was not at the site of massacre echoed the version of soldiers and claimed that the military simply acted on “information tipped off by residents on the presence of rebels in the area.”

In his latest media interviews, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel counseled the military to be “circumspect” with its reporting and to make sure that they have their intelligence reports confirmed.

Many such intelligence reports have become a source of embarrassment lately for the Arroyo administration since they eventually ended up as false.

Bayan Muna partylist representative Teddy Casiño, who immediately gave a privilege speech in Congress after learning the incident in Leyte said he is seeking a “thorough probe” on this incident, and that he wants the intervention of his colleagues at the House.

Other Bayan Muna leaders also said the “massacre” in Leyte was clearly intended to cripple the progressive organization, which has suffered a big number of fatalities, including a Catholic priests, protestant ministers, lawyers and organizers since the AFP released its Compact Discs (CD) entitled “Enemies of the People,” which fingered Bayan Muna as a communist front organization.





8ID scores another encounter in Leyte

November 26, 2005

CAMP LUKBAN, Catbalogan, Samar  –  In response to the timely information provided by the civilian populace to the 8th Infantry Division (8ID), Philippine Army, another encounter by operating troops of 43rd Infantry Battalion (43IB) under Lt. Col. Raul Farnacio, against an estimated 60 fully armed Communist Terrorists (CTs) occurred on November 24, 2005 at around 8:00 P.M. at vicinity Brgy. Cangumay, Baybay, Leyte. This resulted to the recovery of one M653 (baby armalite) rifle, three magazines for M16, one handheld radio (ICOM), personal belongings and subversive documents with high intelligence value. There were undetermined numbers of casualties on the enemy side as shown on the bloodstains on their route of withdrawal while one soldier identified as Pfc Domingo Cillo was wounded and immediately evacuated to Sogod Hospital in Southern Leyte.

The series of encounters these past weeks indicate that 8ID is in the upper hand in its counter insurgency campaign and that most significantly, it has the support of the people. With this development, the troops are now closing in on the different lairs and sanctuaries of the CTs to prevent their further depredations, extortion and other terroristic acts. The success of these encounters in Baybay and Palo, Leyte are the result of timely information volunteered by the barangay populace which proves the point that civilian support is essential in counter-insurgency operations.

Based on the report forwarded to the 8th Infantry Division, the encountered CTs are fully armed with high powered firearms which include M203 grenade launchers and M60 machine guns. This armed group has in its ranks women and minors. The firefight lasted for around 20 minutes after which the enemy withdrew towards different directions with bloodstains traced along their path. At present, the 43IB is still on pursuit operations against the fleeing rebels some of them are reportedly wounded.

In a related development, the party list Bayan Muna is being blamed by the relatives of the victims in the Palo encounter. Said militant organization is blamed for the deception employed in recruiting their relatives as they were forced into believing that they were fighting a good cause and that they would not be working against the government. “Had they not join Bayan Muna, they should still be alive now”, said the relatives. The CTs in the region are reportedly focusing on their recruitment thru deception and extortion activities to further their cause, victimizing hapless civilians in the process.

Maj. Gen. Bonifacio B. Ramos, the Commanding General of the 8th Infantry Division is calling for the support of the local Chief Executives in Eastern Visayas. The support of the local government units to the Army is an essential ingredient to demolish the CPP/NPA/NDF. He likewise urged civilians to shy away from associating with any dubious organizations which are front of the CPP/NPA/NDF for their own safety. “Don’t be deceived, stay safe,” he said.





High time for Philippine government to pass anti-torture legislation

Press Release by
Asian Human Rights Commission
November 25, 2005

HONG KONG – The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on Wednesday urged the Philippine President and Congress to pass long-overdue anti-torture legislation. The Hong Kong-based rights group's demands came several weeks into the Philippine Congress's reopening.

"Torture is one of the most abhorrent assaults on human dignity," the AHRC said in an urgent appeal.

"In whatever form or manner torture is committed, it leaves a deep and lasting scar not just on the flesh and psyche of its victims and their families, but on the very foundations of a society."

"Philippine history and present-day reality is filled with accounts of tortured citizens who are either alleged members or suspected sympathizers of armed opposition groups," said Basil Fernando, executive director of the AHRC.

"Even ordinary suspects in criminal cases and members of the country's most marginalized communities, including women and children, are subjected to torture to extract confessions or admissions that will be used against them, as well as to intimidate and shatter their will."

The Philippines has signed major international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Convention against Torture.

By ratifying the Convention on Torture, the Philippines committed itself to "take effective legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures" to prevent torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

The Philippine Constitution itself prohibits torture, and provides for legislation to criminalize it.

Such legislation has been pending in Congress for years, but has so far failed to pass, mainly because it is not a priority for the majority of lawmakers.

The current bill against torture, House Bill No. 4307, seeks "an act penalizing the commission of acts of torture and for other purposes." Akbayan Party List representatives, Loretta Ann Rosales, Mario Joyo Aguja, and Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel filed the bill on May 11, 2005.

The bill provides for invalidating confessions obtained under torture, and prosecution of offending law enforcement officers as well as their superiors.

"Passing a law is a precondition and the surest way to end torture as common practice in the Philippines," said Fernando.

"President Arroyo and Philippine lawmakers should demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding citizens' rights by passing this bill as soon as possible."





SAGUPA- SB to testify on Fertilizer Scam

Press Release by
November 24, 2005

TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte  – Peasant group Samahan han Gudti nga mga Parag- uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA- SB) is set to testify on November 24, 2005 before the Senate hearing on the controversial fertilizer scam. The group will be represented by its Secretary General, Lito Gacusana and accompanied by Northern Samar’s peasant group, PESANTE- NS through its representative, Jose Tico.

The groups were called upon to testify in behalf of all farmers in the region if they have indeed received fertilizers supposedly distributed to farmers last April 2004, a few weeks before the May 10, 2005 elections.

SAGUPA- SB has earlier stated the obvious, according to Maritess Macabuhay, Research Officer of the group. “We have not received a single drop from the liquid fertilizer supposedly intended for farmers in certain towns, districts and provinces all over the country. The P728 million agriculture fund from the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) of the Department of Agriculture just disappeared into thin air and probably landed in the pockets of a few, most especially Madam Gloria Arroyo’s”, stressed Macabuhay.

According to Diana Ragub, Campaign and Advocacy Officer of SAGUPA- SB, one governor, one congressman and two municipal mayors were supposed beneficiaries of the support- funding for the farmers in their respective areas. “Leyte’s Remedios Petilla supposedly received P5 million, same was the case for Leyte’s third district representative, Eduardo Veloso. In Northern Samar, Las Navas mayor, Arlette Tan was also supposedly given P3 million for the purchase of fertilizers. Same goes for Southern Leyte’s St. Bernard mayor” said Ragub.

“These, however, were not felt and received in the grassroots level. What is noteworthy of this is the timing of the fund releases”, said Ragub. Based on records from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the funds were released last April 2004, when it was not planting season.



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