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In the Eyes of Urban Communities

Stories of Urban Militarization

By George Ryan TabadaPublished about a month ago 4 min read

Article by: Marvin Cabalhin and George Ryan Tabada

Marching from Liwasang Bonifacio to Mendiola Peace Arch to mark the 75th International Human Rights Day, several rights groups condemned the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to end the rampant human rights violations amid the continuing militarization in communities in Metro Manila.

According to Karapatan NCR, a local human rights group whose members are frequently the targets of red-tagging, public funds are being wasted by the government on initiatives like NTF-ELCAC and the extensive spread of anti-insurgency propaganda in order to disguise state forces against the Filipino people in the forms of harassment and red-tagging. As a result, the government's counterinsurgency action is deemed inhumane especially because these threats happen across the communities in the metro.

In fact, the urban poor people claim that the police, working with the National Task Force to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), intrude in the communities they live in by setting up community relief initiatives while also conducting intelligence operations and red-tagging individuals.

In response, they call on the present administration to focus on a range of social services, such as the development of job opportunities and housing security.

A Torture to Mind, Heart, and Gut

“The NTF-ELCAC is torture to the mind, torture to the heart, torture to the gut as it leads to fear,” said KADAMAY San Roque Chairperson Ka Inday Bagasbas.

Bagasbas is one of the victims of Urban Militarization in Sitio San Roque, Quezon City. She first experienced this in 2020, when the military frequently visited her home to inform her that she had to surrender due to her involvement in protest actions.

Despite living in San Roque for 40 years, it was the first instance of harassment she encountered from the police. She claimed to be red-tagged as well, carrying the resulting fear for several months. This is why she reached a juncture where fear held her back from participating in protests for a while.

Apparently, that wasn't her last encounter with urban militarization.

In the midst of the 2021 pandemic, while carrying the rallying cry, she actively contributed to setting up a Kusinang Bayan in the community to address the pressing need for food amidst widespread hunger.

However, the military allegedly intervened, ordering its shutdown and issuing threats of legal action against her if she refused to comply.

A growing militarization in urban communities and a blurring of the boundaries between civilian and military authority were already features of the Philippine situation even before the pandemic. But during this global health crisis, the NTF-ELCAC made the situation worse.

From Demolition to Militarization

Imelda, a 58-year-old volunteer daycare teacher in Batasan, Quezon City, carries not only the plea for a closer and safer relocation site but also the call for an end to urban militarization in their area.

According to Imelda, she observed the surveillance conducted by police and military in their community under the pretext of searching for a drug user to arrest. However, she asserts that their presence is causing fear due to the red-tagging of these military to the Gabriela members, who are also residents in their area.

“They’re red-tagging the members of GABRIELA because they don’t like GABRIELA. This is why the people are scared to join protests because they might be the next ones to be red-tagged.”

Her plea for housing assistance over militarization stems from the unsettling experience of being red-tagged when the police intervened during their community education efforts focused on housing rights. This incident has heightened her concern about the need for a supportive approach to address housing issues rather than urban militarization.

In the eyes of the Youth

“NTF-ELCAC’s goal isn’t good at all. The truth is, it isn’t humane,” said Ronjay Mendiola, 21 years old from SAMASA PUP.

Mendiola asserted that its lack of humanity stems from its use of Red Tagging, the suppression of Youth Leaders, Labor Leaders, and other progressive groups. He believes that a comprehensive approach in resolving the armed conflict is necessary to emphasize the importance of delving into the core issues behind the people's demands and the reasons fueling their protest actions against the system.

"If we’re talking about the International Humanitarian Law, militarization should not be a way to resolve the armed conflict. The right way is to address the calls of the people who are revolutionizing.”

Regulating the effects of armed conflict is the goal of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). It outlines the responsibilities of states and non-governmental organizations when engaged in conflicts. One of these responsibilities is the efficient and unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid during armed conflicts. Clearly, the existence of NTF-ELCAC is already an IHL Violation.

“For the youth sector, instead of being able to show their full potential to fight against the system, there are times where we are being silenced instead. This means that there are still a lot of youths who are scared to participate in political activities.”

He also mentioned how parents worry about militarization and how it acts as a barrier—keeping their children from actively engaging in political activities. As a result, NTF-ELCAC hampers the youth's capacity to play a constructive role in transforming their community.


About the Creator

George Ryan Tabada

George Ryan Tabada is a fourth-year journalism student at Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

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