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A first hand experience with Oplan Bayanihan

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A first hand experience with Oplan Bayanihan

The solidarity mission went to Pantabangan to document the conditions of the Igorot community who are being displaced from the land they have been tilling. The team did not expect that they would experience what the Igorots have to put up with in their struggle for land. 

Sidebar: For two Igorot women, a constant struggle to survive
Sidebar: Imprisoned for refusing to leave their land

PANTABANGAN, Nueva Ecija — Early morning of May 2, I rode a bus to Cabanatuan City to join a solidarity mission organized by Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL). The mission aims to conduct an investigation on the conditions of an Igorot community being displaced by projects under a public-private partnership project.
On board two jeepneys from Cabanatuan City, the team, composed of some 30 individuals from peasants, indigenous peoples, human rights groups and church-based organizations, went straight to Pantabangan Municipal Hall in Nueva Ecija for a courtesy call with the local mayor. After waiting for more than an hour for a certification from the mayor, we travelled for more than an hour and reached Lower Tuli subvillage, Villarica village shortly before dark. Two local radio journalists, both women, joined us.

We saw a group of local folk standing outside their nipa huts. When we stepped out of the vehicles, we saw a dozen men, wearing shirts and shorts, hammering pieces of wood. One was wearing a black sleeveless shirt printed with the word “Army.”

Hanging in one of the huts was a banner with the words: “Welcome, Bayanihan Program. Mamulat, Makiisa at Makialam para sa Mapayapa at Maunlad na Lipunan.” On another hut was a banner of the Spartans of the 81st Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Sto. Nino 2, San Jose City, Nueva Ecija.

Joseph Canlas, AMGL chairman and Sr. Cecille Ruiz, chairwoman of Karapatan-Central Luzon and Antonio Flores of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) approached the men who introduced themselves as soldiers of the 81st IBPA. Canlas asked for the commanding officer. 2nd Lt. Titus Eleven Canedo presented himself, saying he is in charge of the project. When asked, Canedo said they have been staying in the area for five days and that they are building a multipurpose hall. He instructed another soldier to take photos of the “visitors.”

At that moment, I was holding a camera, taking photos. Canedo looked at me and asked for my identification. He held my press card and read my name aloud. He asked what Bulatlat is and I answered. Canlas said I am not the only journalist in the group and that we were invited to cover the solidarity mission.

Not long, a man wearing a cap and a shirt with the words “I Heart Peace” joined us. He introduced himself as Capt. Elmar Salvador, commanding officer of the Spartans team. Immediately, he patted the back of one of the male members of the delegation and told him: “I heard what you said to Tatang (old man) earlier. Your words were striking.” Later on, I would learn that the delegate told the old man that there is no change under the new administration.

Canlas, speaking to Ruiz, said that during our arrival, Salvador merged himself with the local residents. Defensive, Salvador said he was only talking with the people. Then he suddenly touched his shirt and said,“This is our shirt.”

Canlas went on explaining that the mission wanted to interview the residents regarding their land problem. “Go on. I will not meddle with you,” Salvador said.

Salvador said they are there for the Bayanihan program initiated by the chief executive. “We want to experience how to live as normal Filipino citizens, that we also belong to society,” he said. He went on saying that they are there to organize the community. The conversation lasted for a while until the leaders of the solidarity team ended it.

Soldiers of the 81st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army build multipurpose hall in a far-flung village in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija.(Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)
Before dusk, I and two other members of the team saw two soldiers in full battle gear, brandishing long firearms, roaming around the community of less than 50 households. Another member of the team, the driver of one of the jeepneys, said he saw at least 30 soldiers, also in full battle gear, not far away from the center of the community.

The solidarity mission team decided to stay for the night. The road back to the town proper is dangerous. We occupied the small wooden church of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), a few meters away from where the soldiers were staying.

There is no electricity. We lit a bonfire and had dinner, rice and mongo with sardines and squash. The laughter of children playing failed to ease the tension in the air. It took time before residents came near the church to talk to the members of the solidarity team. We knew that some of the soldiers in civilian clothes were listening to the discussions about the problems of the community..... MORE


URL: http://bulatlat.com/main/2011/05/13/a-first-hand-experience-with-oplan-bayanihan/


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