Press Release: UPLB students face police and military harassment while on immersion with local farmers

UPLB Zoomout Multimedia Collective

Press Release | February 5, 2012

 

CALATAGAN, BATANGAS – Eight members of a UP Los Baños based student organization, UPLB Zoomout Multimedia Collective, cried foul today over what they considered as “an obvious act of political harassment” by government forces.

 

According to Zoomout head Raymart Narciso, military and police personnel in two instances today tried to intimidate them while they were conducting an immersion program with local farmers and fisherfolk in Barangay Hukay, Calatagan Town in Batangas.

 

At about 11:00 AM today, the group was on their way to an interview and were passing by the barangay hall where several military men were stationed when a certain Dueñas of the 16th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army confronted them and started asking why they were taking videos. Dueñas argued that the footage might be used to give the military a bad image and then said he will call the barangay captain. Another military personnel, a certain Macaset of the 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force, later came instead of the barangay captain and started questioning the group too.

 

Later at around 1:00 PM, three policemen PO3 Plata, PO2 Johnson and PO2 Arambulo came by the house were the group was staying. The policemen told the group that they were there due to a request by Brgy Capt. Romillo Macalalad in pursuant of a local ordinance that purportedly requires visitors to sign their names in the barangay office’s logbook. Narciso said the police kept on insisting that they go to the barangay hall to sign the logbook.

 

The students as well as members of the local community felt the claims of the policemen to be dubious and asserted that they saw no need for the police to be the ones to enforce the said ordinance, if it indeed existed. “It is so lame, to say the least, for the police and military to bother with a very minor issue of signing names in a logbook. Instead of wasting their time on such nonsense, they should focus their efforts on solving serious crimes or hunting down real coldblooded criminals like Jovito Palparan,” Narciso said.

 

The students and members of the community argued that the barangay officials, namely the local councilors or even the tanods (local watchmen) would suffice for the job. They demanded to be shown the said ordinance. Later, the police presented to the group an ordinance defining the local tax code. The ordinance however contained nothing about requiring visitors to the barangay to sign their names in any logbook.

 

Narciso meanwhile added that they did not expect to be treated in such a bad fate despite the courtesy they showed Brgy. Capt. Macalalad. He said that before they started their immersion yesterday, a representative of Zoomout, along with members of the local community met with Macalalad and presented to him a formal letter informing his office of their immersion program in the community. He said the gesture was to show courtesy to the local government, and Macalalad at that time gave his approval and did not mention anything about signing names in any logbook.  The group would later learn from someone in the local community about Macalalad’s alleged denial of receiving any formal letter.

 

The group however believes that it was the military men who really wanted for them to sign the logbook. Yesterday, a military personnel riding a motorcycle told two Zoomout members to go to the barangay hall and sign the logbook. The two however ignored the man since they were aware at that time that Macalalad has already expressed his approval for their immersion.

 

According to Narciso, they think it is not unlikely that the real reason behind the harassment incident, and in general, the military presence in the barangay, is because of the active struggle of the local community for land. “Truth be told, we see nothing wrong in giving our names to the barangay officials, but given the circumstances, it is pretty much obvious that this is no simple issue of enforcing any barangay ordinance, but rather, a form of harassment and intimidation, not only against us, but especially against the local community.”

 

Residents of Barangay Hukay have been fighting for land rights for several decades now. In 1989, a Supreme Court Decision has declared that 2,000 out of the 12,000 hectare land commonly known as Hacienda Zobel, should be distributed to farmers. But the decision has yet to be implemented up to now.

 

In 2009, military started occupying the barangay hall and has since been active in red baiting tactics, harassment and intimidation against the local leaders in the community. Several human rights abuses, including an indiscriminate firing incident by the military have been reported since then. The local organization in the community have been vocal in calling for the pullout of the military in their barangay.

 

At about 5:00 PM, the Zoomout members concluded their immersion and left without having to sign any logbook.

 

Narciso said he and members of Zoomout would continue to conduct more immersion programs in other oppressed communities despite today’s incident. “If their (the police and military) intention was to intimidate us into not getting involved anymore in the struggles of oppressed communities like in Barangay Hukay, then they have failed. If there’s one thing we’ve learned today, it is that with all the injustices in this country and our society, we should get more involved and get more people to be involved. Thanks to thepolice and military who harassed us, we just learned first hand that what we hear from political activists in and out of the university are actually true.”

 

UPLB Zoom Out Multimedia Collective is a student organization that aims to promote social awareness and initiate action for societal change through the use of different media such as film, radio broadcasting, and print. It seeks to incorporate art in advancing the cause of the marginalized and oppressed sectors of society.

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