Eastern Visayas remains one of the poorest regions in the whole country, despite its vast natural reserves. It comprises 7.14% of land in the Philippines, almost half of this is agricultural. The Philippine Statistics Authority figure shows that 91.93% of the population in the region is concentrated in rural areas, despite a relative civilization of seven cities in Eastern Visayas. This complements the figure that 69.5% of its population are dependent on agriculture in terms of economy. Although 41.90% of the region’s GDP is contributed mainly by the service sector according to government data, it is agriculture that feeds the region’s people with pennies to almost nothing as the sector is facing an intensifying poverty.
Government aid remains elusive for the peasant sector in Eastern Visayas despite the obvious need for an immediate relief and comprehensive rehabilitation program. The decreasing productivity rate of the agriculture sector reinforced through the lack of government support is lethal – killing farmers themselves and the sector’s economic aspect.
The peasant sector in Eastern Visayas is attacked not only by the neoliberal economic policies but also by an intensifying militarization in the region. The Community Support Programs (CSP) and Peace and Development Teams (PDT) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines under the framework of the counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan did not bring peace to our folks in the countrysides but a threat to their lives.
At present, there are seven battalions (20th, 43rd, 14th, 87th, 52nd, 19th and 78th Infantry Battalions) under the 8th Infantry Division operating in Eastern Visayas. All of these have recorded cases of human rights violations, according to Katungod Sinirangan Bisayas – Karapatan.
Since March 2017 up to the present, there have already been four mass evacuations due to the escalating number of human rights violations in four different towns (Lope de Vega in Northern Samar, Calbiga and Matuguinao in the province of Samar and Burauen in Leyte). It can be noted that the Philippine Army in Eastern Visayas launched spontaneous “offensives” against the very people it ought to protect by the time that the peace process between the NDFP and GRP was starting to fail.
There have been at least three farmers killed under the first year of the Duterte administration due to red tagging. In February this year, a farmer-leader named Bernadette Lutao of Bobon, Northern Samar was killed in what the AFP propagandized as a clash between them and the red armed group New People’s Army. But official accounts say that Lutao was shot dead and no encounter took place. Last month, another farmer leader in Albuera, Leyte was shot by two alleged military elements and passed away days after the incident.
Another farmer named Belinda Capacite of Can-avid, Eastern Samar was jailed last July, a day after Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA), due to fabricated charges. Capacite was tagged as a collector of the revolutionary tax enforced by the CPP-NPA.
While the national and international media reports the aerial strikes in Marawi, City in the island of Mindanao, aerial bombings also occurred in the island of Visayas hitting the rural part of Matuguinao, Samar. In fact, residents of Brgy. Rizal in the said town were forced to leave their barrio and take refuge in the homes of their relatives in other places.
Some civilians were threatened by the AFP that they are included in the list of “NPAs and their supporters”. In September this year, the 87th IB based in Calbiga, Samar convened the barrio captains telling them that they should convince their constituents who actively support the NPA to surrender before “Duterte declares Martial Law”.
In Basey, Samar, nine residents of Brgy. Mabini were framed as fake surrenderees. The youngest is the 20year old Benita, Mabag, member of Kabataang Party-list Western Samar and a student of Mabini Natonal High School. According to her account, she was interrogated for days starting last October 5 by the AFP on her alleged connection to the red army which Mabag denied. Days after, the 87th IB already propagandized, through a local newspaper in Eastern Visayas, that Mabag seeks for their protection as she was recruited by a “certain Ka Monica” of the NPA. The other civilians interrogated by the AFP are Jaypee Macasadoc, Pamfilo Incenas, Rafael Sablan, Dioricio Algera and Benita’s father, Amado Mabag.
In Gamay, Northern Samar, some farmers are being asked to present their identification cards whenever they are seen by armed men in their fields. This “ID system” also exists in other parts of the Samar island.
The AFP is trying to disband peasant organizations to form other AFP-led organizations such as Kilusang Pagbabago and other groups. They are also using DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and DENR’s National Greening Program (NGP) to convene farmers and subject them in an intense interrogation and intimidation. Examples of which are those that occurred in Alang-alang and Albuera, Leyte where farmers were told not to attend mobilizations.
There have also been recorded tailings among Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas leaders and staffs. The whereabouts of farmer organizers is being asked from the members of local peasant organizations. The latest occurred this month of October in Alang-alang, Leyte. Also, on July 23, Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas Deputy Secretary General Nestor Lebico was tailed in Northern Samar by two suspicious elements, after attending the Northern Samar Small Farmers’ Association General Assembly. A military official, in fact, went to the Regional Congress of Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas last August 23, also asking the names of the leaders of the said alliance. Suspicious elements have also been observed within the vicinity of Sagupa’s office in Tacloban City.
In sum, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is using “peace and development” to blind the public on their human rights violations. Developing the road network in countrysides, building schools and other facilities, and providing social services to rural areas are some of their most used cards to legitimize their encampment in barrios, therefore violating the International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
At present, the AFP is having a connivance with the local government through the Regional Development Council (RDC) and Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) imposing local government units to support and uphold the AFP’s CSP and PDT projects. This occurs despite the people’s active demand to pull out troops in the countrysides.
While there is a strengthening peasant movement in the region as farmers rise against hunger and poverty, the puppet republic reinforces its military and fascist character.
Rabunos, Sinirangan Bisayas!
(Surge, Eastern Visayas! Rise Visayas!)