TUGUEGARAO CITY, Philippines- The 17th Infantry Battalion (IB) commander belied a progressive group’s claim on social media that the army forced ‘rebels’ from Zinundungan Valley, Rizal, Cagayan to surrender on Saturday, February 10.
In Philippine Information Agency’s Tipon-Tipan on Tuesday, February 13, 17th IB Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Camillo Saddam said the posts were “lies” and the identified Militia ng Bayan (MB) members and sympathizers surrendered voluntarily to authorities.
Among those who surrendered is Rafael Guimay. He was “invited” by authorities following his identification in a checkpoint at Barangay Masi on Friday, February 9.
Cagayan Valley Karapatan claimed online that Guimay was merely a farmer. They also said others who surrendered the day after were civilians.
They also accused the army of branding progressive individuals and legal activists as “NPA” or “rebels” to impede them from fighting for their rights, lands, salaries, and ancestral lands.
Further, the group labelled the surrender as “fake news,” “malicious,” and “forced.”
“Ang hakbanging ito ng AFP ay resulta ng Proclamation 374 ni Duterte na nagpapahintulot sa malalalang paglabag sa sibil at pulitikal na karapatan ng mamamayan. Tinatarget nito ang mga progresibo at ligal na mga aktibista at pinaparatangang “NPA” o “tagasuporta”. Ito ang tsapang ibinigay ng rehimeng US-Duterte sa AFP upang takutin ang mamamayang nakikipaglaban para sa lupa, sahod, karapatan, at lupaing ninuno,” the group said.
Yet, photos presented to media on Tuesday, February 15, by the army apparently show the “ordinary farmers” training in the area. The photos also show the group had graduation rites.
“Yung ordinary farmer naglalaro ng baril-barilan then nag-shift siya sa actual M16. Ito yung mga other members ng MB na ating inidentify,” Saddam told media.
Saddam said they recovered the photos and documents in an abandoned rebel camp they had discovered earlier.
He said Guimay was only invited by authorities and his surrender was witnessed by his wife and the barangay captain. The military then formulated a list of MB members.
Saddam said MBs and several supporters directly went to Mayor Brenda Ruma and Vice Mayor Joel Ruma’s house the day after. The army, he said, was only notified of the surrender.
Meanwhile, the army’s 502nd Brigade Commander Brigadier General Bartolome Vicente Bacarro said progressive groups “make stories” via social media to “tarnish” the 17th IB’s accomplishments.
“Lahat ng ginagawang maganda ng sandatahang lakas ng Pilipinas ay magkakaroon ng ibang kulay pag sila ang sumulat. Even the legitimate armed force pumupunta sa lugar, kinekuwestyon nila, on the guise that it is part of militarization,” Bacarro said.
Further, Bacarro said the military are “accountable” to their words and actions, something that communist terrorists are not subjected to.
“Yun ang disadvantage namin. The advantage ng kabila is they can make any statement na para i-tarnish yung lahat ng accomplishment ng counter insurgence nang walang accountability,” Bacarro said.
Meanwhile, Bacarro said they will combat the online threat by presenting facts. He said they will let the public judge.
“For our part, we cannot do anything about it…The viewers will have their own discernment kung sino ang nagsasabi ng totoo… And I think the picture by itself will really show na talaga yung iba, o karamihan sa kanila ay sumailalim sa training,” Bacarro said.
Meanwhile, a peace and order awareness symposium in Rizal town is slated this February to further “enlighten” residents.
The army has already taken over 12 major camps in region 02 and are developing focus areas. “Our intent talaga is makuha natin ang mga ito at a minimum, prevent them from conducting training,” Bacarro said. Northernforum.net