Fake encounters vs. Reds in Batangas result in 2 civilian deaths

Local residents have come out to dispute these claims, stating that the casualty was actually local farmer Maximino Digno. According to Digno’s neighbors, he was last spotted going to his field in barangay Cahil when elements of the 59th IBPA found and killed him. His remains were spotted sometime after.

Maximino Digno (Photo courtesy of Karapatan-ST)

By JUSTIN UMAL
Bulatlat.com

SANTA CRUZ, Laguna – Military operations in various parts of Batangas province have resulted in at least two civilian deaths, including a minor, according to human rights groups.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 59th Infantry Battalion claimed that it was involved in at least three armed encounters in the municipalities of Taysan, Calaca, and Lobo. Rights group Tanggol Batangan, however, disputed these claims and called them “fake news.”

“Since January 2022, the AFP’s 59th Infantry Battalion began their deployment in the mountains of Batangan,” the group stated. “This resulted in worsening militarization and more cases of human rights violations against civilians and members of progressive organizations.”

The group noted in particular the AFP’s claims that an armed encounter happened in barangay Guinhawa, Taysan last July 18, which resulted in the death of a nine-year old girl. According to AFP reports, the girl was caught in the crossfire between the military and the NPA.

Eyewitness reports collected by Tanggol Batangan debunked this claim: according to them, a mass wedding was taking place in barangay Guinhawa at the time when elements of the 59th IBPA engaged in “indiscriminate firing.” The girl was reportedly taking her family’s goat out to pasture at the time of the incident.

Mothers and Children for the Protection of Human Rights (MCPHR), an advocacy group, visited the nine-year old’s wake. According to them, they were “continually harassed by members of the 59th IBPA,” including demands for pictures, red-tagging, and unsolicited physical contact.

MCPHR condemned the killing, calling it a “blatant violation” of both the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and Protocol II of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

“But to seemingly escape liability, the 59th IB is continuously fabricating narratives that there was an encounter and that the NPA killed [the 9-year old],” MCPHR stated. “Towering evidence says otherwise.”

Tanggol Batangan also claimed that another supposed encounter last July 25 in barangay Malapad na Parang, Lobo was actually an act of indiscriminate firing. No casualties were reported, although the AFP claimed that they recovered firearms.

The next day, the 59th IBPA claimed that another armed encounter occurred at the boundary between barangay Coral ni Lopez and barangay Cahil, both in Calaca. The AFP reported one NPA casualty as a result of the encounter.

Local residents have come out to dispute these claims, stating that the casualty was actually local farmer Maximino Digno. According to Digno’s neighbors, he was last spotted going to his field in barangay Cahil when elements of the 59th IBPA found and killed him. His remains were spotted sometime after.

Digno was a local farmer in his 50’s. Neighbors described him as “having a mental disability,” often talking to himself and carrying a toy pistol when making his rounds. Tanggol Batangan claims that the military is preventing Digno’s family from visiting their loved one’s remains.

‘Cut from the cloth of Palparan and Parlade’

According to human rights groups, the 59th IBPA is responsible for a “string of human rights violations” coming from Quezon province. Karapatan Southern Tagalog noted a series of incidents involving the 59th IBPA going as far back as November 2021 in Sampaloc, Quezon, when two farmers, Jorge Coronacion and Arnold Buri, were accused of being members of the NPA and killed.

Last April 2022, Karapatan ST claimed that the 59th IBPA shot and killed a 20-year old farmer in Mauban, Quezon, under similar circumstances. On June 21, elements of the 59th IBPA raided the house of a farmer in San Juan, Batangas and coerced him to pose as an NPA surrenderee.

“Ironically blazoned as the ‘Protector’ battalion, their protection is none to be found for the farmers, fishermen, and townsfolk of Batangas,” the group said in their statement, particularly calling out Lt. Col. Edward Canlas, battalion commander, and Lt. Col. Ernesto Teneza, Jr., acting commanding officer as “heavily accountable for their gross recklessness and ruthlessness against the civilian population.”

MCPHR, meanwhile, claimed that Canlas and Teneza have “left a trail of blood” in Quezon and Batangas. “[They are] war criminals cut from the cloth of the butcher Jovito Palparan and Antonio Parlade, both facing the wrath of the public and the law.”

Protecting business interests

Karapatan ST noted that the “series of rights violations comes with a backdrop of development projects,” adding that projects in San Juan, Taysan, Lobo, Calaca, Calatagan, Rosario, and Nasugbu would “gravely affect the people.”

In Tanggol Batangan’s statement, the group claimed that the shooting incident in Lobo was the latest in a series of “intimidation and harassment tactics” by the 59th IBPA meant to secure the San Juan Project – a 26,730 hectare geothermal plant with a capacity of 15 to 35 megawatts.

The San Juan project is divided across 42 barangays and spans the municipalities of Lobo and Taysan, as well as Rosario and San Juan in Batangas, and Candelaria and Tiaong in Quezon province. It is headed by Red Core Investments Corp., an investment corporation founded by Albert Altura, former President of Atlantic Gulf & Pacific Company.

“It’s not unlikely that the real reason why the 59th IB is keen on conducting focused military operations and indiscriminate firing in the area is to protect the interest of megaprojects that will evict hundreds of farmers,” Tanggol Batangan said in their statement.

Farmers’ group Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA TK) similarly noted that the series of rights violations in Calaca was meant to “protect the Calaca Power Plant,” a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant owned by SEM-Calaca Power, a joint venture of DMCI Holdings and Seminara Mining & Power Corporation.

Karapatan ST is currently conducting a humanitarian mission in the areas affected by militarization. The group has stated that “in the face of deeper economic and political crisis, any attempt to strip off the most fundamental rights must be rejected.” (RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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