To have peace, there must be justice
I could not believe that despite the bad publicity that the police received from the “hulidap” incident on Edsa last Sept. 1, law enforcers would do it again. I was sad and angry when I visited on Sept. 29 two Agta mothers—Marites Marquez, 43, and Rosario Marquez, 37—in jail in Tanay, crying and wondering why they ended up there.
Marites lives in Tumbil, Barangay Umiray, in General Nakar, Quezon. RJ, her 5-year-old son, was with her in the jail until her ex-husband took him. Rosario is from Mataping, also in Umiray.
On Sept. 27, while waiting for a ride in Barangay Sta. Ines at 9 a.m., the women were “invited” by members of the 16th Infantry Battalion and the Tanay police to the barangay headquarters. After questioning them for hours, the soldiers and police decided to take them to the police station in Tanay. The barangay officials objected because there was no legal basis to arrest the women. There was no arrest warrant, the women had no firearms, and they were not in the act of committing a crime.
Nevertheless, the law enforcers prevailed. They signed a statement on the blotter that they would bring the women back at noon the next day. Marites and Rosario were detained at the Tanay station starting at 7 p.m. and were not returned to Sta. Ines the next day as promised—a mockery of civilian authority.
When I spoke with the police officer concerning the illegal arrest, he threw the blame on the military. I shot back that the police were also guilty of detaining the women. I reminded him that we are not under martial law.
Marites and Rosario said they were accused of kidnapping, robbery and murder! A witness had linked them to the abduction of a retired military officer in Barangay Tinucan, Tanay, at 6 p.m. on Sept. 26 because of the black cloth tied around their neck, a traditional Agta sign of mourning a dead relative. Apparently, some New People’s Army rebels wear a black cloth around their neck, too.
At the time of the kidnapping, Marites and Rosario were resting in the house of Gregoria Borreo in Sitio Nayon of Sta. Ines, after walking for days from Umiray. With the information gathered from the women during the questioning, the law enforcers should have realized that they could not possibly have taken part in the kidnapping. These law enforcers are reviving the fear experienced by townsfolk during the time of then Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan.
The rights of the women—the “excluded” in society, in Pope Francis’ terminology—were simply ignored. To feed her two young children, Marites earned a living by gold panning in Tumbil. She had planned to go to the health center for TB medication. Rosario, who had left her husband temporarily because of a marital problem, was selling soap and shampoo for a living.
General Nakar was once heavily influenced by the NPA, of which Marites was a member in 1992-1996. In 1997 she surrendered to the town mayor. The government wants rebels to abandon the use of arms but with this illegal detention, it sends a contrary message.
I have been in a mission with the Agta for 20 years now, and this is not the first time that law enforcers have taken advantage of them. Just last July 16, soldiers from the 1st IB disguised as NPA rebels visited the Agta in Sitio Tamala, Barangay San Marcelino, in General Nakar, destroyed some of their plants, and stole the bolo of Agta Zaldy Buendicho. That bolo was later seen slung around the waist of a uniformed soldier.
In 2011, soldiers again disguised as NPA rebels kidnapped Demer Morada in Barangay Mabini in Polilio. The abduction was exposed in the media, and the military immediately released Morada.
More painful was the torture done on four Agta men in December 2009 in Barangay Dikapinisan in San Luis, Pampanga, on suspicion that they were NPA rebels. The Agta sought my help. Unfortunately, even if it was the Commission on Human Rights’ national office that took their affidavit, the CHR in Pampanga faithfully followed the military line that I was a leftist priest who was inventing stories.
The government’s campaign for peace is crumbling. The peaceful and gentle Agta in the vast Sierra Madre belong to a common ancestry, and with this recent violation of human rights, law enforcers planted new seeds of anger and violence all over Quezon. The small NPA force must be jumping for joy. This was how the dictator Ferdinand Marcos managed to recruit rebels.
Sagibin-LN, the organization of all 43 Agta communities in General Nakar, Real and Polilio, is demanding the immediate release of Marites and Rosario, and that those responsible for the detention, as well as their superiors, be made answerable. I call on President Aquino as the commander in chief of the Armed Forces to put in jail these soldiers and their officers so that they can feel how the poor feel when due process is violated.
Beyond these human rights violations, there is seething injustice in the Sierra Madre in Quezon. Until now the Agta-Dumagat and the Remontado have not received the royalty from the Angat-Umiray Transbasin, which could have eased their poverty and helped put their children through school. Without first securing their free, prior and informed consent, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System is said to be fast-tracking the building of the Kaliwa and Laiban dams. The award of their title of ancestral domain has been effectively blocked by interest groups. And local government units violate the mandatory representation provision of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act giving the Agta seats in legislative bodies.
The call of the Church and of peace advocates is that if we really want peace, we have to promote justice.
Fr. Pete Montallana ([email protected]) lived with the urban poor for 13 years, “following the footsteps,” he says, of St. Francis. He worked with the Agta-Dumagat in Infanta, Quezon, when he was chair of the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance, of which he is now a member.
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