GENERAL SANTOS CITY — Four activists in the Soccsksargen region have expressed fears for their lives as the military has allegedly formed a death squad to liquidate them.
Sadrach Sabella, Karapatan regional secretary general, claimed that the 73rd Infantry Battalion (IB) has organized a liquidation squad to assassinate him, Mariam Magangcong, a staff of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao; Norsam Wahabi, a campaigner of Kalihukang Mag-uuma sa Soccsksargen; and Theresa Bacus, a campaigner of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Soccsksargen.
“We strongly condemn the assassination threat against us by the military,” Sabella said in a text message on Wednesday.
He said he learned from a “reliable source” that military hitmen had been conducting surveillance to carry out their plan.
President Duterte earlier proposed the formation of a death squad against the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Karapatan and KMU, among other militant groups, have been accused of being legal fronts of the communist rebels.
In a statement, the regional Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the alleged assassination plot clearly “demonstrates the brutality of the military against civilians and unarmed activists.”
The surveillance and harassment against progressive groups by suspected members of the 73rd IB, who disguised as vendors, intensified this year, the group said.
1Lt Gerry Maborang, 73rd IB Civil Military Operations chief, denied on Thursday that they had organized a death squad to assassinate the four activists.
“These militants are paranoid. They are creating issues to tarnish the reputation of our unit because we are winning the war against the communist rebels in our jurisdiction,” the official said in a phone interview.
The 73rd IB, based in Malita, Davao Occidental, also has jurisdiction over Sarangani and Davao del Sur, provinces with heavy NPA presence.
Maborang said around 70 NPA rebels had surrendered to the battalion since the start of the year to avail of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), which gives financial assistance to those who surrender.
The NPA Guerrilla Front 71 has been reduced to about 30 regular members because many have surrendered due to higher E-CLIP benefits, Maborang said.
According to Maborang, a surrendered AK-47 rifle is now paid P116,000, an increase from the previous P58,000; a surrendered Armalite rifle would entitle them to P100,000 from P50,000 in the past.
Communist rebels have been known to operate for long in Soccsksargen, a region that hosts plantations and mining operations.
Soccsksargen straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.
Maborang urged communist rebels to yield so they could avail of bigger E-CLIP benefits and spend time with their families this Christmas season.
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