In the most recent among a string of incidents, members of the Sugarfolks’ Unity for Genuine Agrarian Reform (SUGAR) were harassed by elements of the 59th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) during a local meeting on Monday.
Bahaghari regional founding chairperson Kim Federizo and other activist leaders were consulting with SUGAR members at Brgy. Gimalas, Balayan when members of the 59th IBPA took photos and videos of the gathering.
The group was meeting about the next payout for the P30 thousand financial aid promised by House Speaker Rep. Martin Romualdez and Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas for the workers affected by the sudden closure of Central Azucarera de Don Pedro Incorporation (CADPI) last December 15, 2022.
Elements of the 59th IBPA then arrived looking for Federizo and Kaisahan ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Tubuhan-Batangas (KAISAHAN-Batangas) provincial chairperson and spokesperson Jaysie Balunga for a “photo-op,” and returned several times to look for other community organizers.
“Dapat po ay aalis na po ako, akin pong hinindian [ang mga sundalo], ngunit sinita pa rin po ako, at ang sabi ay sumama sa picture at mag-pose. Yun na lamang rin po ang aking ginawa,” Federizo said in a video from SUGAR’s Facebook page.
These photos were then posted on the IBPA’s official Facebook page, a common tactic by government organizations to red-tag and vilify activists and community organizers.
This is only the most recent among a string of intimidation tactics done by the 59th IBPA, such as the abduction of two sugar mill workers in March, which happened along with intensifying militarization in the Tuy and Balayan towns.
“Ang paghahanap sa amin, sa mga high profile leaders ay alarming. Pero ang mas alarming dito ay yung militarization sa lugar… Ngayon talaga buong Tuy, Balayan, militarized. Yun yung alarming, mas yun yung kailangang pagtuunan ng pansin,” Federizo told the Collegian.
The incident also prompted SUGAR to postpone an initially scheduled solidarity march from August 10 to August 13, which sought to bring awareness and media attention to the increased military presence in these communities.
The 59th IBPA asserted through their social media posts that their house-to-house visits were mere “information awareness drives” done in coordination with the barangays in Gimalas, Balayan, and Brgy. Putol, Tuy, Batangas.
But SUGAR disputes that these house-to-house visits, such as the ones in Putol last August 3, are only a pretense to red-tag organizations tagged as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council, referring to organizations like Kabataan, Gabriela, and other national democratic mass organizations.
The locals were also being discouraged from conducting mobilizations, according to Federizo, with the 59th IBPA even red-tagging SUGAR on their Facebook page.
Despite these tactics, Federizo vowed to press on with their advocacy.
“Lagi nating tinatanong bakit nagkakaroon ng harassment… Kaya sa lokal, syempre may takot pa rin, pero hindi nawawala yung diwa na makatwiran yung ginagawa nating kilos protesta, yung ginagawa nating pagtindig ay talagang parte lamang ito ng laban natin,” Federizo said. ●
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