Farmers in Eastern Visayas bear brunt of military’s anger over setbacks

Several months after he returned to Samar, Gabijan was arrested on the strength of a warrant of arrest for criminal charges in connection with another NPA offensive. He was accused of involvement in the March 17, 2004 raid on the 34th IB and PNP station in San Jose de Buan town, several kilometers away from Paranas.

According to a statement released by the NPA’s Efren Martires Command in the Eastern Visayas, 13 soldiers and one policeman were killed in the raid. The NPA suffered three casualties but seized M16 and M14 rifles, and several pistols from government forces.

Gabijan said that he was still in Manila when the raid occurred – he had returned to Samar only in June of 2004. Three policemen have testified against Gabijan. They claimed that they actually saw him around 4:30 a.m. participating in the rebel attack. Gabijan expressed wonderment over how the policemen could have possibly seen him in the darkness of pre-dawn.

Jesus Bacnotan, 64, also of Barangay Lipata, was charged with several criminal cases for alleged involvement in the NPA raid in Motiong. It was only in 2008, however, that he was arrested – abducted, rather – by soldiers from the 8th ID.

On November 20, 2008, at around 11p.m., men who identified themselves as soldiers knocked on the Bacnotan family’s door and asked for Jesus. Jesus, roused from his sleep, opened the door and was immediately blindfolded and pushed inside a vehicle. Because of the long drive, he thought that he would be brought to the 8th ID headquarters in Barangay Maulong, Catbalogan. At around 3 a.m. based on his estimates, he was made to ride another vehicle and was told that he would be brought to a hospital. He said that he was brought somewhere in Tacloban City or Leyte.

Bacnotan said that he spent three nights under military custody where he underwent continuous tactical interrogation by several military men who took turns in questioning him. He was blindfolded the entire time. He realized that he was brought to Leyte because he saw the San Juanico Bridge when his blindfold was finally removed – aboard another vehicle bound for the 8th ID headquarters in Maulong.

It was only then that he was turned over to the police. He was informed that he was being charged with rebellion, multiple murder, frustrated murder and robbery when he was brought to the Catbalogan Hall of Justice. Bacnotan, already a senior citizen at the time of his arrest, was made to stay another three nights in the Maulong military barracks before he was remitted to the provincial jail in Catbalogan.

Loreto Gabuay, also a senior citizen at 63, is a farmer from Barangay Salay in Paranas. He was also charged with involvement with several NPA actions such as the Motiong and San Jose de Buan raid, and even in the ambuscades by the NPA in Barangay Babaclayon and Lawaan in Paranas. Gabuay said that he was either at home with his family or tending his nearby farm when the incidents happened.

Gabuay was arrested by soldiers from the 34th IB on September 23, 2008. At around 3 a.m., soldiers surrounded their residence in Barangay Salay. His family refused to obey the order to open the door. At daybreak, soldiers broke down their door home and searched for “concealed weapons.” When they found nothing, the soldiers took Loreto with them. The soldiers did not carry, or show them a search warrant or warrant of arrest.

For fear that Gabuay would be summarily executed, his wife Beatriz, 48, begged the soldiers to spare his husband and asked that she be brought with them. They were both blindfolded and taken to the 8th ID headquarters in Maulong.

At the military barracks, Loreto was repeatedly tortured and coerced to admit that he was a NPA commander. His interrogators promised him stable means of livelihood if he surrendered. He was turned over to the police where he was made to sign some documents and was informed of the charges filed against him. After ten months, Beatriz was released.

More than a year after she was released, soldiers returned to Barangay Salay looking for Beatriz. They said that they had an arrest warrant for her. Beatriz returned to the Catbalogan jail to inform his husband that she was still being harassed by the military. They solicited the help of the jail warden, who promptly advised Beatriz to check with the Hall of Justice if there was indeed a standing arrest warrant against her. She learned that there was none, and, in any case, Beatriz refused to return to Barangay Salay because she is convinced that the military would not stop harassing her.

While the charges filed against these farmers are currently handled by lawyers from the Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO), the Catbalogan 5 appeal to concerned institutions, human rights advocates, and lawyers to look into their plight.

Similarities in the Acosta and Sarmiento arrests

Writer Acosta was arrested without warrant while conducting research on the human rights situation in Barangay Bay-ang in San Jorge last February 13. His counter affidavit states that “he was physically and psychologically tortured” when he was forced to undergo continuous tactical interrogation for three days in a military camp in San Jorge. While his supporters maintain that he is a free-lance journalist and cultural worker, the AFP tags Acosta as a “top-ranking personality of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines).”

The case of illegal possession of explosives against Acosta – filed by the San Jorge PNP and elements from the army’s 34th Infantry Battalion who allegedly recovered a hand grenade from Acosta upon arrest – is currently with the Samar provincial prosecutor’s office for evaluation.

NDFP consultant Sarmiento, like fellow consultant Alan Jasminez who was arrested in Bulacan last February 14, is formally covered by the JASIG of the GPH-NDF Peace Talks. However, Jasminez and Sarmiento were unable to participate in the resumption of the talks held in Oslo, Norway last February, as both are still detained at Camp Crame in Quezon City.

Curiously, a fragmentation grenade was also allegedly found in the possession of Sarmiento when he was arrested in the vicinity of a shopping mall in Alabang, Muntinlupa on February 24, 2009. The NDF-EV, through its spokesperson Fr. Santiago Salas, said Sarmiento, who was then in Manila to attend consultations, was actually abducted, tortured and held incommunicado for several days. The AFP then announced, through a press statement dated March 3, 2009, that Sarmiento was arrested by joint elements from the army intelligence and the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) by virtue of a warrant of arrest for arson.

For Sarmiento’s arrest, a P2 million ($46.5 thousand) bounty was also reportedly awarded by the AFP to an informant. The AFP claimed that Sarmiento is the secretary of the CPP’s Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee and member of the Central Committee of the CPP-NDFP and the NPA.

Inopacan “Mass Graves”

The “mass graves” in Inopacan, Southern Leyte were in the headlines since 2006 when prominent personalities such as former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo were among those tagged by the Arroyo administration’s Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) as perpetrators of this particular case of “communist purging.”

One of those implicated was Vincent Borja, a Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) coordinator for the Eastern Visayas. Arrested in May of 2007, Borja was released only last October after being cleared of several other trumped-up murder charges filed in Leyte.

Political prisoners tagged by the AFP as “top NPA leaders” such as Paterno Opo and Jaime Soledad are also being held for the Inopacan murders. Before they were charged with other common crimes, Jaime and his wife Clarita were abducted by armed men in a convenience store in Bacoor, Cavite in March 2008 .

Those accused assert that this “mass grave” issue is a mere orchestration by the previous government as part of Oplan Bantay Laya. Human rights groups in the Visayas found that the skeletal remains of seven individuals alleged to have been buried in Inopacan appeared to have been “already used” in earlier murder charges to implicate Soledad. The bodies were earlier reported to have been exhumed from another “mass grave” in Baybay, Leyte in June of 2000.

However, illegal arrests based on this trumped-up charge continue – even after the dismantling of the IALAG.

Dario Tomada was arrested in Binan, Laguna by elements of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP) on July, 22, 2010 and was charged with 15 counts of murder related to the Inopacan “mass graves.” Tomada was the founding Secretary-General of the regional peasant organization Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA-SB). He served as Chairman of SAGUPA-SB from 2001 to 2005, until he was forced to flee the militarized region after a frustrated attempt on his life by military death squads.

The 8th Infantry Division, which covers the whole of Eastern Visayas, was under the command of Jovito Palparan in 2005.

Aside from these high-profile cases, peasants from upland barangays in Samar share stories of so-called “rebel-returnees” who were actually arrested by the military in the most uncommon of circumstances.

During a visit, Acosta told human rights volunteers about a story that the 8th ID released last January. It was about “Jane,” – a “scorned 20- year old NPA amazon who was almost raped by her comrades” – who supposedly surrendered on her own volition to the 34th IB headquarters in San Jose de Buan.

However, local townsfolk could attest that the military arrested Jocelyn Gabin – not “Jane” – a resident of the upland Barangay Cataydungan, while she was attending the “patron” or San Jose de Buan town fiesta.

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