A FARMERS’ group on Monday urged the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to end the spate of killings in Compostela Valley by immediately putting a stop to the military offensive against what the government forces described as communist rebels.
Carlos Trangia, an officer of Hug-ong Mag-uma sa Wantog ComVal (Humawac), said the ongoing military operation by the Philippine Army’s 46th Infantry Battalion has led to the deaths of three farmers and the wounding of several others, including a 14-year-old boy early this month.
The fatalities – Alejandro Laya-Og, Jennifer Albacite, and Ronel Paas – actively opposed the entry of Agusan Petroleum Mining Company (AgPet) in Compostela province where it is engaged in large-scale mining.
Humawac claimed that the AFP described the farmers who have expressed their strong opposition to AgPet’s entry as members of New People’s Army (NPA), but the farmers disputed this as baseless.
According to the military, Compostella Valley is widely perceived as one of the remaining mass bases of the NPA in Mindanao.
Trangia said the slain farmers were not NPA soldiers, nor were they connected with the Maoist armed group in any way.
Interviewed by The Manila Times over the phone, Trangia angrily said in Filipino that the AFP “has no heart. They kill farmers without valid reasons.”
“The AFP leadership and soldiers must bear in mind that their duty and obligation is to protect the people as pointed out in the Constitution,” he added.
Captain Rhyan Batchar, spokesman for the 10th Infantry Division, earlier told the media that the AFP had no involvement in the February 7 and 9 killings and wounding of farmers.
But he admitted that the military was engaged in a series of gun battles against the NPA in the area.
“On February 11, three armed clashes happened in Pantukan, Compostela Valley Province (CVP) and Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental. The first and second encounters happened in Barangay Napnapan, Pantukan when a group of NPAs fired upon the detachment of 5th CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA) Company, 72nd Infantry Battalion located at Sitio Riverside, and when patrolling elements of 46th Infantry Battalion encountered the escaping NPAs led by alias Raden at Sitio Post 4,” Batchar elaborated.
The third encounter was between the 73rd Infantry Battalion soldiers and suspected rebels belonging to Guerilla Front 71 of Far South Mindanao Region (FSMR) at Sitio Binaloy, Barangay Marabatuan, Jose Abad Santos. Corporal Joel Camus was hurt in the battle.
The fourth incident took place on February 12 when members of the Alpha Company, 67th Infantry Battalion, engaged in a firefight with NPAs in Sitio Km 28, Barangay Panansalan.
Two slain guerillas were left behind and a “child soldier” was captured, Batchar said.