The military is planning to file charges against the New People’s Army (NPA) over the recent burning of civilian-owned vehicles in Claveria and Balingasag towns in Misamis Oriental.
Lt. Col. Ricky Canatoy, commanding officer of the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion (58IB), said Saturday that the NPA violated human rights and international humanitarian laws.
By attacking and destroying civilian properties, which are not party to the conflict, he said the communist rebels are liable for these acts.
With the NPA being pushed back by the police and armed forces, he said it has resorted to attacking civilians and non-combatant targets.
Canatoy said they have been consistent in their efforts to stop the NPA from inflicting more harm on civilian population and their extortion activities.
“It is but normal for them to find ways to inflict damage to show they still have a force. But our relentless pursuit of them resulting in arrests of key officers and confiscation of firearms has an effect on the NPA,” Canatoy said.
It can be recalled that the 403rd Infantry Brigade has already filed cases against NPA fighters for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law before a local court twice.
Protest vs. NPA
Meanwhile, following the burning of vehicles allegedly carried out by the NPA rebels in Barangay Bulahan, Claveria town, Misamis Oriental, residents staged a protest against the armed insurgents on Friday.
“We must not cower and we must not allow them to terrorize us,” Meraluna Abrogar, Claveria mayor, told a crowd of more than 300 from Bulahan and neighboring villages during an indignation rally.
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, three vehicles used by Del Monte Phils. Inc. (DMPI), a multinational corporation engaged in agri-business, for its pineapple plantations in Claveria, were allegedly burned by members of the NPA in Sitio Talambao, Bulahan.
Set on fire were two hauler trucks and a bus used to transport the company’s workers to the plantation.
The following day, soldiers from the 58IB captured a 19-year-old alias “James,” suspected of being a member of the NPA unit that burned the vehicles.
A follow-up operation also led to the arrest of Edgar Virtudazo and Lope Virtudazo, suspected to be James’ cohorts and also NPA members.
Those arrested are said to be from the NPA’s Subregional Committee 1 of North Central Mindanao Regional Committee.
In 2017, the NPA also torched three dump trucks owned by Del Monte Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative in Barangay Gregorio Pelaez in Claveria.
During the protest action, residents burned the flags of the NPA and Communist Party of the Philippines as they took a stand against the acts allegedly perpetrated by the Maoist rebels.
Abrogar has assured that despite these actions by the NPA, Claveria will continue to move forward as it is now promoting tourism as the town’s new income generator.
Overlooking the Gingoog Bay, the Gingoog-Claveria diversion road has become an attraction for local tourists who flock to the area known for its cold weather and scenic views where restaurants have set up shop and view decks have been erected.
The site is also location of the Cebu Pacific Flight 387 memorial shrine.
“We are concerned, but the tourists are now aware. If they see on the map that the conflict is far from those tourist destinations, I think they will not fear coming here,” Abrogar said.
The mayor added that she will also ask the DMPI management not to pull out from Claveria because of what happened.
The corporation’s plantations are mainly located in a cluster of barangays in Claveria known as “Tabok.”
DMPI started its Claveria operations in 2016.
Jay Vincent Zulita, DMPI area supervisor for Tabok, said there were talks among the company’s top managers to leave the town due to its peace and order situation.
Like Abrogar, Zulita said he wants DMPI to continue its operations in Claveria as close to a hundred workers depend on the plantation for their livelihood.
“We want to deliver more for Tabok. We defended it to the management so it could continue,” Zulita said. “If they (NPA) continue to disrupt our production, it will have an impact on the people’s livelihood.” (Jigger Jerusalem, PNA)