Peasants hold a rally in DavaoCity in the southern Philippines and join calls for justice for murdered Italian Catholic priest Fausto Tentorio who was gunned down in North Cotabato province. (Photo by Jonald Mahinay)
NORTH COTABATO (Mindanao Examiner / Nov. 30, 2011) – Government troops have put up encampment at a village hall in North Cotabato’s Arakan town where a solidarity mission recently visited as part of pilgrimage to remember the death of an Italian missionary Fausto Tentorio.
Tentorio, a known human rights advocate, was shot outside his convent in October.
The mission, which organized the two-day “Pilgrimage to Arakan: Journey for Peace and Justice,” condemned the encampment of army soldiers in the village of Kabalantian
Residents told the mission delegates that the squad from the 57th Infantry Battalion and Special Forces has been in the village hall more than a month now. The same is happening in other villages, they said.
The solidarity mission, led by the Justice for Fr. Fausto “Fr. Pops” Tentorio Movement, visited the area to see the situation of the villagers after the priest was murdered.
The mission, led by church leaders headed by Sister Emma Cupin, had attempted several times to ask the military to pull-out their troops after villagers complained about the presence of heavily armed soldiers in the area, but was ignored by the military.
The Commission on Human Rights also reprimanded the military forces for putting up the encampment in the village.
“We found the military’s hammocks still hanging in the barangay hall. They are heavily armed while small children passing by them. They did not even think that their mere presence compromises the safety and lives of the children. I can’t believe that this new Oplan Bayanihan is any different from the previous military plans that caused killings and forcible evacuations,” Cupin said.
“In many cases here, recorded and not, this military encampments and operations breed gross violations of human rights. Here in Kabalantian, they have suffered from grave trauma after the death of their neighbor Ramon Batoy and the torture and detention of two others, Noli Badul and Celso Batoy,” she added.
Batoy was shot and killed by soldiers three days after Tentorio was slain. Troops tried to search Batoy’s house, but the farmer resisted and was hit by a soldier with the butt of his rifle.
Protecting his family, Batoy hacked the soldier who was killed and at this point, troops opened fire on his house and his neighbors. Batoy’s wife who was 6 month pregnant managed to escape with her daughter and son.
Kakai Tolentino, spokesperson of the indigenous peoples party list group Katribu, also reproached the military troops because they have no nametags on their military uniform.
“Such is a vivid violation of the Protocol 4, of the Geneva Convention on the rules of engagement. Arakan is under the reign of terror and we know, the people know here, the real terrorists who harassed, killed and drove away civilians are the military,” Tolentino said.
The mission also challenged village officials and the local government to stand for the people and oppose such blatant violations perpetrated by the military.