Group stops aid delivery to Nueva Vizcaya tribe, cites security risk
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—A disaster response group has suspended the delivery of relief goods to at least 445 Bugkalots who were victims of Supertyphoon “Lawin” (international name: Haima) in Alfonso Castañeda town in Nueva Vizcaya province, citing security reasons and alleged pressure from the military, particularly from the Army’s 7th Infantry Division (ID).
Alay Bayan-Luson Inc. (ABI), through its executive director, Lorena Villareal, said its personnel “needed to be protected from continuing vilification, harassment and surveillance” by the military when they deliver relief goods to Bugkalot families in Barangay Pelaway, Lipuga and Cawayan in Alfonso Castañeda.
The group traced the harassment to alleged military suspicions that ABI was a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has resumed peace negotiations with the Duterte administration.
According to Villareal, a man, who identified himself as a “Lieutenant Cruz,” called the ABI office on Nov. 4 asking about its location and scope of its services—all information that were available in the group’s Facebook page.
She also said village officials refused to receive relief packs from her group due to pressure from the military.
ABI’s former executive director, Wilhelmus Geertman, was killed by alleged lawmen in July 2012 in Pampanga province. Before Geertman’s murder, the military had allegedly spied on ABI and interrogated members of disaster preparedness organizations that the group formed in Nueva Vizcaya, Villareal said.
The 7th ID denied the accusations, saying it “does not resort to harassment of cause-oriented groups, much less commit murder.”
“It will course its concerns through legal means to establish its claim and will never violate the rights of its people,” it said in a statement.
It said the Army, specifically the 7th ID, “recognizes and supports the current ceasefire between the government and CPP, and will never commit any act that will jeopardize the peace talks.”
It said the purported “harassment” that took place over a telephone conversation on Nov. 4 “cannot, in any way, be a reason for the suspension of delivery of humanitarian aid.”
It said the “Oplan Bayanihan,” which ABI claimed to be a tool of the military to “spy” on the group’s activities, is “a tool, not to spy, but to get close to the people.”
“It has nothing do with spying but everything to do with delivering basic social services that the government has no means to deliver in far-off places,” the 7th ID said.
Villareal asked the Department of Social Welfare and Development to facilitate a dialogue with military units in the area for the resumption of humanitarian aid.
Maj. Gen. Angelito de Leon, 7th ID commander, welcomed it, saying that “with proper coordination, the issues can be erased since we have similar goals—to help the people who were affected by natural calamities.” —TONETTE OREJAS
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