On Militarization and Redtagging: Bicolanos demand for justice in People’s SONA 2023

Progressive groups and youth organizations marched the streets of Panganiban to Plaza Quezon, Naga City today, July 24 for People’s SONA, hours before the second State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. 

Despite the heavy rain and police presence in the area, members of progressive groups staged a protest at Plaza Quezon where delegates from various parts of Bicol region shared their own experiences and realities one year under the Marcos administration.

Members from different sectors criticized the president’s lack of urgency in solving socio-economic issues such as inflation, minimum wage, anti-poor policies, agriculture mess, and human rights issues such as continued intimidation and harassments to activists.

Urban militarization

For Marites of AMIHAN Camarines Sur, her year under Marcos Jr. was filled with extreme harassment, having been red-tagged since March 2022.

“May nag-istar sa komunidad ko, sa Concepcion Grande, ning mga army, mga CMO, pulis — halo halo — galing 9th, 83rd, may galing ng 21st [Infantry Batallion]. Dae ako nakahiro ning malayang paghiro sa sakong kumonidad bilang sarong aktibista. Winaran akong boses dahil duman sa programa kang NTF-ELCAC,” Marites narrated.

National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was created by former President Rodrigo Duterte to end local terrorism in the country. However, the agency has long been criticized for its abuse of power, labelling dissenters as terrorists, illegally arresting protesters, and killing thousands of Filipinos in cold blood.

“Halos ara-aldaw na dinudumanan ako kang mga militar sa sakuya mismong harong, pinapapirma, pero dae ko pinirmahan ta ang sabi ko sainda, aktibista ako. Kasi hinahambing ninda ako na ano ako kang NPA. Aktibista ako bako akong NPA,” Marites continued.

According to Marites, she first became an activist due to a land dispute in their locality.

“Ang sabi ko sainda, sain ako madulok? Sa mga demolition, ang kalaban mi, PNP o militar. Sain kami madulok kung bako sa organisasyon?”

Until today, military presence is still prevailing in Concepcion Grande, Naga City where Marites describes the police posing as allies and advocates as deception towards people.

One youth killed is one too many

The tragic story of 17-year-old Rey Belan from Masbate was also brought forward during the protest. 

According to KARAPATAN-Bicol, Rey and his four other friends were only hunting for food when soldiers from 2nd Infantry Battalion open fired at them. In an attempt to bury their crime, the Armed Forces of the Philippines claimed Rey was killed in a clash as a member of the New People’s Army. The AFP’s story was then denied by his companions who survived the shooting and the young lad’s family.

Rey was the fourth victim in Bicol documented by Karapatan. However, the group emphasized that there are still several communities they are yet to reach, and there might be more victims than what the record shows. I Lou Marie Cuarto

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Photos: Jam Mazo, Neil Mondragon/ThePILLARS Publication