Saturday, December 13, 2014

Decal-for-sale, curfew trigger protests inside Fort Magsaysay

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Palayan City – Motorists passing inside the military reservation here are being required to secure decals for a fee, triggering massive protests from local officials and citizens who already have to deal with a curfew imposed by the leadership of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division.

Each decal costs P510 and issued to vehicles passing through Barangay Militar inside the military camp where strict security procedures such as a curfew also prevail.

Protesting motorists have sought the help of Mayor Adrianne Mae Cuevas who earlier criticized the sudden imposition of a curfew in barangays Doña Josefa and Langka covered by the reservation, which she said, restricted the movement and civil liberties of residents, particularly during nighttime.

          She accused 7th ID officials of failing to consult the civilian leadership before setting up checkpoints in the two barangays which has caused alarm and inconvenienced the residents.

          Former councilor Analyn Boncawil, a resident of Militar, said even retired soldiers are required to have their decal or they will be barred entry inside the camp.

          A retired Army sergeant said sometimes, temporary stubs are issued the motorists in place of the decals. “When we return the next day to get our decals, we are no longer issued one,” he complained.

During a three-hour dialogue Wednesday, Cuevas confronted Camp Commander Lt. Col. Edgar Batenga who was accompanied by Capt. Mark Ruelos, division spokesperson.

Batenga earned the ire of Cuevas and the other city officials after he ordered closed Gate 5 manned by the Alorma detachment at the camp and implemented a curfew from 9 pm to 4:30 am.

Doña Josefa barangay chairman Aurelio Lapagao said the policy has affected even Pinatubo victims and indigenous  peoples (IPs)living in the place.

Batenga said they imposed the security measure to prevent the indiscriminate intrusion of informal settlers inside the camp.

“We are just following orders from higher authorities and what is provided by law,” he said.

He said the reservation used to cover a vast expanse of land covering 76,000  hectares but its land area has shrunk to only 44,000 hectares due mainly to the entry of informal settlers.

Lawyer Paul Cuñano, city legal officer, said the affected barangays have been established by law and are supposed to have access to national roads but have been restricted with boundaries.

It was not the first time that this military camp, considered the biggest in the country and one of the biggest in Southeast, was linked to repression and violation of human rights. It was here when President Aquino’s father, late former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino and fellow senator Jose Diokno were placed under solitary confinement to stifle dissent during the Martial Law years.
This camp also figured prominently in a series of coup attempts against the administration of President Aquino’s late mother, then President Corazon Aquino in 1989 staged by then-colonel and now Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan. (Manny Galvez)

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