Network exposes rights abuses vs. PH fisherfolk, farmers in Palawan

Tanggol Magsasaka, a network or broad platform of individuals and organizations that advocate the general upliftment of lives of rural-based sectors, held a fact-finding mission in Taytay, Palawan last February 19 and 20, 2020. The group conducted several interviews and focus group discussions in isolated poverty-stricken areas, namely the island barangay of Paly and the coastal Sitio Montevista of Barangay Poblacion. Recent reports indicate that these barangays also have heavy military presence.

General findings from the data gathered demonstrate that there is general disruption of livelihood in Paly and Sitio Montevista. Respondents in Paly registered complaints over various policies such as the Administrative Order No. 5. This was passed by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD). This resulted in wiping out a reliable source of income for poor fisherfolk. For farmers in Sitio Montevista, they are largely affected by the presence of the 400-hectare bamboo plantation of Guevent InvestmentsDevelopment Corporation (GIDC).

“In both communities, the farmers and fisherfolk are being deprived of their right to produce food and sources of livelihood, and consequently throwing them to hunger, essentially violating their right to food,” noted Eddie Billiones, spokesperson of Tanggol Magsasaka.

Testimonials and narratives point to the state armed forces’ presence as an overwhelming factor that hinders them from exercising their right to livelihood. Baseless allegations connecting PAMALAKAYA to the New People’s Army (NPA) have compromised the security of the members and everyone else on the island.

Palawan’s Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflicts (TF-ELCAC), a policy framework that seeks to implement Duterte’s EO 70 and Joint Campaign Plan Kapanatagan locally gives blanket authorization for authorities to baselessly accuse local leaders of being rebels, arrest citizens without due process, and permit the presence of state forces in these barangays and even in the schools of these barangays.

“As per reports of the locals, elements of the Philippine Marines freely enter and exit the school premises of Paly National High School to perform civic military operations. This directly violates Art. 10, Sec. 22 of RA 7610 declaring schools as zones of peace,” stated Nikki Aserios, Executive Director of Children’s Rehabilitation Center(CRC).

Threats, harassment, and intimidation were also experienced by members of Pinagkaisang Lakas ng mga Okupante, Residente, Manggagawa, Magsasaka, at Mangingisda (PLORMM) after the local government adapted TF-ELCAC. In a focus group discussion, they disclosed that they were repeatedly visited at their homes by some elements of the 3rd Marine Brigade billeted in Sitio Montevista.

Naka-full battle po sila. Nakalabas ang mga baril. Tapos tinanong ako kung mahal ko ba ang mga anak ko at asawa ko,” recalled one of the participants.

(“They are wearing full battle gear. They are carrying firearms. Then they asked me if I love my children and wife,” recalled one of the participants.) 

Pinapapirma po nila kami ng affidavit tapos hindi pinapaliwanag kung para saan. Sa isip ko, bakit ako may pipirmahan? Wala naman akong kasalanan,” explained another interviewee.

(“They made us sign the affidavit without explaining to us what is that for. In my mind I asked, why do I have to sign it? I did not violate anything,” explained another interviewee.)

“This is very alarming. People’s organizations are legitimate actors that uphold public interest. The government should seek to strengthen these organizations and not dismantle them because they enable people to gain what is rightfully theirs,” stressed Billiones.

“Authorities should reconsider impositions that make lives of the marginalized more difficult. It would be better for them to put programs in place that would address the needs of the people, improve their situation, and guarantee the enjoyment of the fruits of their labor,” he concluded.

The fact-finding mission team was composed of representatives from various organizations, including Kasama-Timog Katagalugan, Pamalakaya, Karapatan, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, Asia Pacific Research Network, IBON International, and the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty. ###

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