Sagada peasants fear “red-tagging” by military

By Jeoffrey Mhar Larua

SAGADA, Mountain Province – Peasants in the northern villages of Aguid, Pide, and Fidelisan here worry as elements of the 54th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army (IBPA) started listing individuals they allege to be members or supporters of the revolutionary New Peoples Army (NPA).

A Barangay Pide councilor who asked not to be identified told a fact-finding mission team August 9 that soldiers are making rounds in the villages with a list of names and ordering those in it to “clear their names” to their commanding officer.

The village official said that the list has nine names from the three northern villages.

“We are not sure who else is in that list,” the councilor said. “It bothers us that there’s a list that might risk our lives,” he said, adding that one elder from Pide is among those listed.

According to earlier reports, six soldiers went to Fidelisan village last August 1 and told barangay officials that three of their constituents are in the said list and must prove themselves innocent in nearby Aguid Elementary School where they set up camp.

The soldiers were led by 2Lt Keith Gabriel Paquibot of the 54th IBPA.

Fidelisan officials and elders called for an emergency meeting with their constituents August 3 to caution them about the said list.

“They warned the umili (community) not to open their doors to outsiders at nighttime and not to come alone when invited by the military,” said one Fidelisan resident.

Fidelisan officials recalled that the military often come uninvited to community meetings, taking notes and pictures of proceedings. The last incident, they said, was on June 25.

54th IBPA soldiers present in a community meeting in Sagada. (Photo by Jeoffrey Mhar Larua)

‘Disrespect of culture’

Meanwhile, officials from the three barangays decried the “peace rally” organized by the 54th IBPA troops in Aguid Elementary School while burial and a wedding ceremonies, deemed sacred event by the community, were being held.

“What they did was an insult to the sacred culture of Igorots,” said one Aguid official adding that the troops even took advantage of the food served during the wedding.

The soldiers, they said, refused to postpone the rally because their “boss” will be coming from Manila to observe.

Since early June, 54th IBPA troops have been observed by the community as using the Aguid school’s old buildings as their quarters.