Civilians in North Negros continue to fear combat operations of combined forces of the 79th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army and the Special Action Forces (SAF) of the Philippine National Police even as the entire province of Negros Occidental is under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to control the COVID19 pandemic.
Based on initial reports gathered by the Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA), military operations have continued in rural areas of Escalante City, Calatrava, and Toboso towns despite the province-wide ECQ implementation.
In Toboso town, the home of farmer Quintin Palay and other members of the their clan in Sitio Odiong, Barangay Bandila was forcibly ransacked by elements of the 79th IBPA and SAF last April 15, at around 6:30 in the morning.
The military threatened and interrogated a 12-year old minor who was in the house while other family members were out working in their monggo fields. The child reportedly fainted due to trauma.
The particular combat operation have been going on for several days in the upland areas of Barangay Pantao and Barangay Bandila, where soldiers are also engaged in betting and cockfighting. The soldiers who ransacked the Palay home were reportedly in civilian clothes. Other soldiers nearby were busy gambling.
This April, combat operations were also monitored in upland rural villages of of Marcelo, Minapasuk, Cambayubo, Winaswasan, Macasilao, Cruz, Malatas, Pantao and Paghumayan in Calatrava; Bug-ang, San Isidro, Bandila and Tabun-ac in Toboso, and many other barangays in Escalante City where the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict of the Duterte administration (NTF-ELCAC) continue to engage in their rabid campaign to force ordinary civilians and peasants to surrender en masse and admit to links to the armed communist movement.
In Barangay Bug-ang, Toboso and Barangay Malasibog in Escalante City, operators of the NTF-ELCAC continue to coerce peasants to break-up their cooperatives and surrender their lands to landlords and corrupt brokers of anomalous financial grants endorsed by the military.
Meanwhile, there are also reports of abuses in COVID19 checkpoints where personal belongings of civilians are searched and intensely inspected by police and military personnel without protective gear. Some civilians were also ordered to remove their face masks for identification. Authorities have also been arresting so many civilians who break the curfew while additional quarantine restrictions are implemented by local governments.
NNAHRA noted that while civilians are strictly barred from crossing town and city borders to avoid the spread of the COVID19 virus, the army and police engaged in combat operations can freely enter quarantined barangays without any personal protective gear and no notification to local officials of their activities.
Human rights advocates call on authorities to seriously address the COVID19 situation and pull-out military troops from communities. Aside from causing abuses and rights violations, the unhampered movement of police and military personnel can potentially unleash the outbreak of the virus in upland areas where health services are scarce, if not completely unavailable.