Groups raise alarm over EDCA sites, rise of rights abuses in PH province 

By APRN | April 28, 2023

US bases to exacerbate already dire rights situation, land grabbing in Province of Cagayan says int’l, local groups

On the 9th anniversary of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), international and Philippine organizations warn the public of a greater escalation of human rights abuses and land grabbing in the province of Cagayan amid hosting US military bases and exercises. According to the groups, the rise in cases of intimidation, harassment, arrest, and bombings is related, if not instrumental, to the establishment of foreign military bases. 

The Marcos government announced four more US bases through the EDCA. Two of the earmarked sites are in the Taiwan-facing province of Cagayan– the Cagayan North International Airport in Lal-lo and the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana town. The other sites announced are Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela, and Balabac Island in the extreme southwestern Philippines.

“While it’s happening everywhere else in the country, the human rights abuses, including bombings, in Cagayan have increased dramatically in the last two years, fomenting a climate of fear among government critics,” said Tanggol Magsasaka (Defend Farmers).

According to Tanggol  Magsasaka, from January 2022 to March 2023, at least 1,254 were affected by aerial bombing assaults, 900 of them were displaced by this year alone. In January last year, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shelled four villages in Gonzaga, a neighboring town of the new EDCA site in Santa Ana. Last February, the military bombed another nearby town, forcing farmers and Indigenous Agtas to flee. 

“The scale of impact on the rights of communities and livelihoods has grown, and this is parallel to the installation of EDCA sites and the ongoing joint US-PH military exercises in the country,” said the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN). According to the research group, the province has been groomed with years of bombings, militarization, and human rights violations to pave the way for the establishment of the two new US military bases. 

Over a hundred Cagayan activists and human rights defenders have been subjected to state-sanctioned harassment, intimidation, and violence since 2018. This includes the terror-tagging of humanitarian organizations, professors, and even priests. 

Connected to landgrabs

The military’s attacks on peasant groups and villages in Cagayan, activists claim with the Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), were a deliberate strategy to quell resistance to land grabs across the province, including at the two new EDCA sites.   

“It is to no one’s surprise that the communities bombed by the AFP in the last two years were the same villages actively thwarting land grabbing projects in Cagayan. They even arrested farmer leaders, so land grabs remain unchallenged,” said Gail Orduña, PCFS Global Coordinator.

Isabelo Adviento, a beloved peasant leader who led farmer protests in Baggao and Gonzaga, has been detained since last year for trumped-up charges. Since 2011, Adviento has helped farmers in Asinga Via, Baggao, the village bombed last February, and challenged tourism landgrabs. His farmer group, KADUAMI, also supported fishing villages against demolition in Rapuli, Sta. Ana, where parts of the US base are set to be constructed.

Stifling dissent against US bases

Last April 12, activists and humanitarians who came from a consultation with communities on US military bases were harassed by the Philippine National Police (PNP). The activists include church worker Agnes Mesina, who was also illegally detained last year after a humanitarian mission in shelled villages in Gonzaga. 

A recent fact-finding mission led by the peasant group Danggayan Cagayan Valley was also barred by the AFP from visiting Asinga Via, Baggao. Tanggol Magsasaka reports that similar patterns of harassment were employed against first responders who investigated the bombings in Gonzaga, Cagayan, in 2022. 

Meanwhile, government-affiliated online trolls attacked and threatened those who joined the massive demonstration against US bases in Tuguegarao on April 18. Residents of Cagayan expressed their opposition to the province serving as a staging area for an impending US-China clash. 

Int’l groups echo calls to junk EDCA

“Let us not act brand new. The US military presence in the Philippines, especially during the time of the brutal Marcos regime, has yielded nothing but a long list of atrocities against the Filipino people and destruction of our natural resources,” Zenaida Soriano of Amihan, a network of Tanggol Magsasaka, said. 

APRN raised its concern that the establishment of US bases in the country only bolsters the US foothold in the region and not the interests of the Filipino people, saying that “their mere presence in the country makes the Philippines a target for US enemies—a modern-day Pearl Harbor.”

APRN and PCFS have expressed their support for the local groups and citizens rejecting the US military bases. “EDCA and the social cost that comes with it require global attention. We join the call of the Filipino people for the immediate dismantling of the bases and the end of the military exercises in the country,” Orduña concluded.#

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