The concordant chorus of Lt. Col. Jearie Faminial of the 24th IB and the provincial government of Abra headed by Gov. Joy Bernos to hype their “peace and development” mantra highlighting the ambitious Duterte regime’s pipe-dream to end the local communist armed conflict in the province plays like a badly scuffed old record. In their obsession to allow the easy entry of largescale mining companies and hydro-power dams, an interesting parallelism is drawn with the tandem of Col. Constancio Lasaten, Abra Provincial Commander of the Philippine Constabulary and Gov. Arturo Barbero in hardselling the foiled Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC) during the Marcos dictatorial rule.
Lt. Col. Faminial and Gov. Bernos are hell-bent to render the New People’s Army (NPA) “inconsequential” to pave the way for the eventual entry of corporate mining and energy firms such as the Cordillera Exploration Company, Incorporated – Nickel Asia Corporation (CEXCI-NAC) and Santa Clara hydroelectric firm.
Before, the CRC has been trumpeted by its spin masters as manna to bring a “new promise . . . . a season of grace” to the “forsaken Tingguian people”. But sweet talking and bribery did not sway the Tingguian people’s resistance. The church people and the enlightened elders were blamed for the people’s steadfast resistance, who were later on tagged as “subversives” and “anti-government”. Realizing that they can’t easily hoodwink the Tingguian people into submission to allow the massive landgrabbing and plunder of their ancestral lands, the triumvirate of the CRC, the Philippine Constabulary and the provincial Governor adopted the dual strategem of “olive branch and sticks”. The soft approach consisted of a well oiled propaganda machinery in the form of a community newspaper – Rangtay (in fact, the only newspaper in town at the time), a radio slot over DZPA (the only locally based radio station in the province, owned and managed by the Catholic Church) and a cultural “reawakening” program consisting of cultural dancing, essay writing, youth summits and community dialogues. Likewise, massive fake surrender campaigns, outright lies and deceptions were the order of the day. The military approach consisted of the military build up by deploying one company of “Igorot dominated” contingent from the Presidential Guard Batallion (PGB) to augment the Philippine Constabulary, utilizing a wicked form of “divide and rule” pitting Igorots against fellow Igorots. The military took over civilian functionaries as in the case of the mayor of Tineg who was replaced by one Capt. Alfredo Cuyupan. Later on, the same military officer replaced the mayor of Malibcong. Three other new appointed pro-CRC mayors were sworn in to replace recalcitrant mayors. The conduct of massive combat operations, illegal arrest and detention, torture and salvaging of mass leaders were incessant.
Today in Abra, unlike the CRC, Abrenians are not openly informed of the creeping corporate interests of CEXCI-NAC and the 4-hydro-power plants of Sta. Clara. Understandably, this is designed by both entities to avoid exposing their stake prematurely and putting them on the spot by public’ critical scrutiny while on the process of complying with all the legal requirements. This is actually the driving motive behind the overzealous implementation of militarization, paramilitary build up including the insatiable indulgence to resurrect the decomposed CPLA, CAFGU recruitment, fake surrenders, redtagging, military-rigged youth summits and elders conferences and the like.
While there maybe no actual military take over of municipal mayors as in the case during the CRC struggle, local government units are virtually rendered military adjuncts in the implementation of Oplan Kapanatagan followed by the arm twisting directive of the DILG for LGUs to align its program, projects and activities implementation along the AFP’s counter-insurgency plans under pain of sanctions or fear of reprisal from the military.
But in the first place, there’s no need to arm-wrest governor Joy Bernos who has long been in an unholy alliance with the military. In fact she thinks and acts like them, even posing proudly sporting the military combat uniform in her social media post. Clearly, in Abra, as in the entire country, with the governor executing every order of the military in the implementation of the “Whole of Nation Approach”, civilian authority is subsumed under military rule.
Parroting the neoliberal dictum that economic progress will be a consequence of peace, the 24th IB choruses with the provincial governor and their ilk, predicating their assertion that the underdevelopment and sorry state of public service in Abra is due mainly to the active presence of the CPP-NPA in the area. This is a repetitive hypocritical view starkly devoid of any logical grain. This clearly obscures the fact that the real cause of poverty and underdevelopment of Abra and the whole country is the ruling semi-colonial and semi-feudal social system lorded over by the big landlord and comprador social class and their foreign US imperialist master. The local and foreign exploiters and oppressors of this country are the real cause of poverty and underdevelopment. The fact that Joy Bernos and her family belongs to the landed gentry and corrupt politico-contractors of Abra that deprive many peasants of land to till and basic services are proof enough that point who keep the people poor.
Moreover, rampant graft and corruption by those holding the reins of power in Abra aggravates the situation all the more. Everytime typhoons and other natural calamities hit Abra, a mere paltry relief pack if any is provided to the victims. Rehabilitation of washed out communal irrigation system is almost nil. When crops are damaged by drought, no relief assistance ever reaches the starving communities.
The sorry state of the basic infrastructures and public services of Abra is a living testament to the severity of graft and corruption in the province. Construction of much needed access roads and repairs/improvements of damaged roads, delapidated bridges and other public infrastructures are dispensed with selectively. In the 1980s, Abra was the recipient of the biggest slice in Barangay Roads and Bridges allocations in the whole of Ragion I (Abra was part of Region I then), but until today, there is no qualitative change. The substandard accomplishment of the Tubo-Besao Road in 2016 to date is one
case in point. The Php50M and the Php100M Phase I and Phase II respective funds for this road project had been milked by Governor Bernos. A larger amount was pocketed by the governor than what actually was spent in the project, yet it was reported fully accomplished. Later on, the governor was able to acquire her service helicopters. And there are more!
There are only a few physicians, nurses and other health professionals to look after public health. But there are always enormous fund allotment for vote buying, reaching Php12,000 to Php18,000 per voter if you vote for the Bernos and Valera candidates. The governor was most generous to provide the 24th IB soldiers of bulletproof vests each in the last May election. And while the poor Tingguians spend days traveling by foot in mountain trails just to buy basic necessities, the governor travels around in her chopper in full regalia of a militaryman and accompanied by no less than the ranking officers of the 24th IB.
Thus, no amount of fake surrenders, youth seminars, elders workshops, red tagging, harassments, mock battles and other spin machinations can conceal and deny the magnitude of service denial and government neglect highlighted by rapacious grafters and corrupt public officials masquerading as public servants and warlords!
Instead of going along the incredulous line of Governor Bernos and Col. Faminial blaming the revolutionary forces, the CPDF calls on all Abrenians to draw lessons from their militant and glorious CRC struggles and resist the history-repeats-itself scenario. As we fought CRC with our lives and limbs, we have to resist and fight Duterte’s open season of bargaining our ancestral lands and resources for plunder to the CEXCI mining company and Sta. Clara hydro-power corporation. The 24th IB in cahoots with the provincial government are smokescreening this sinister corporate aggression with its Oplan Kapanatagan vicious campaign. As before, let your best sons and daughters join the New People’s Army and expand building revolutionary organs of political power in adjoining cluster areas or tribes. Let us carry forward our quest for national liberation and lasting peace with the rest of the oppressed and exploited Filipino people. Only then can we realize genuine regional autonomy when we shall achieve national freedom and democracy upon the victory of the national democratic revolution. ###