Wednesday, December 10, 2014
FORT MAGSAYSAY, Palayan City – The leadership of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division inside the military reservation here named after democracy icon, former President Ramon Magsaysay has come under fire from city and barangay officials for imposing strict security procedures reminiscent of Martial Law that allegedly infringe on the human rights of residents within the camp and nearby communities.
Mayor Adrianne Mae Cuevas and officials of at least two barangays decried the sudden imposition of a curfew in barangays Doña Josefa and Militar 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.
The outspoken Cuevas minced no words and immediately confronted Camp Commander Lt. Col. Edgar Batenga on the new security policy during a three-hour dialogue at the mayor’s residence Wednesday afternoon. “This (curfew) is not right and this is trampling on the rights of my constituents,” she told Batenga during a face-off.
Batenga, who represented 7th ID commander, Brig. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, was accompanied here 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 socalledAlorma detachment at the camp and implemented a curfew from 9 pm to 4:30 am. The policy has affected people who use the gate in getting to their residence.
Doña Josefa barangay chairman Aurelio Lapagao told Batenga that the security measure has been affecting a lot of people, including Pinatubo victims and indigenous peoples 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.
The exchange between Batenga and Cuevas became heated when the military officer told local officials they should help protect the reservation. “Under Section 30 of Republic Act 7279 or the Urban Development Housing Act, local government units are supposed to help us protect the military reservation,” he said.
“But as the mayor here, I should be consulted. There is nothing in the law that says you restrict the movement of humans,” Cuevas barked. “I’m just protecting the welfare of my constituents.”
Batenga said the reason why informal settlers mushroomed inside the camp was because before, no one was inspecting them to which Cuevas replied : “It’s your fault.”
Lawyer Paul Cuniano, 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.
“Imagine from 9 pm to 4:30 am you cannot move outside of the camp? That’s a basic constitutional right,” he said.
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 represession 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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