A 15-year-old girl who lives in one of the barrios in Quezon Province has accused members of the Philippine military of rape, torture, and detention. The victim, called by the pseudonym “Belle” to protect her identity, has recently come forward, blaming the army and paramilitary officers coming from the 59th Infantry Battalion, in Lopez, Quezon.

According to Belle’s account, on July 27, 2020 she was at a store in Quezon when she was grabbed and forced into a white van then taken to a military camp. She knew armed forces were among her captors because when they removed her blindfolds she caught glimpses of men in uniform carrying long rifles.

For over two weeks Belle was detained, beaten, and interrogated about any supposed activity of armed rebels in her area. She says they tried to coerce her into falsely accusing her mother of being a member of the communist guerrillas of the New People’s Army or NPA.

Throughout her detention, Belle was moved between several locations. She says her primary captor was Leoven Julita, a member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit, or CAFGU, a paramilitary organization affiliated with the Philippine armed forces. Belle claims that Julita kept her locked in his home during the first few days of August. He brought her back to the military camp and sexually assaulted her for two days on August 5 and 6. The following day, he brought Belle to the local social welfare office. There, Belle says, she was ordered to sign an affidavit stating she had voluntarily accompanied Julita for the duration of her disappearance. Belle claims that she ripped up the affidavit, prompting a soldier to threaten, “If you do that again I will shoot you.” Belle eventually signed the fabricated account, seeing it as the only way to return home.

The harassment and threats didn’t stop at this point. Soldiers would threaten her while she was walking to school. Belle, her mother, and other relatives were recipients of constant death threats.

“I kept this hidden for so long. But now it’s time to fight. I know I’m not the only victim, there are many of us. I want the other victims to know, that it’s time for us to speak. Our silence has gone on long enough,” declared a tearful Belle in a press conference on January 21 this year.

Belle and her family sought the aid of national women’s group Gabriela who helped them press charges against the alleged perpetrators with the Department of Justice early this year. Apart from Julita, fellow paramilitary man Arnil Abrencillo, Desiree Salamat of the social welfare department, and Julita’s parents were charged with aiding the crime. Major General Arnulfo Burgos Jr. and General Antonio Parlade Jr., who was in charge of the southern Luzon command at the time of the incident, were included in the formal complaint.

Parlade became known to the public as the face of President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict or NTF-ELCAC. The strongman leader has made it his mission to end the decades long insurgency in the country, while at the same time targeting political rivals. In doing so, they blur the lines between communist rebels and government critics. The arbitrary labelling akin to a modern day McCarthyist witch-hunt has been dubbed red-tagging. Parlade has been known to publicly engage in red-tagging. Now he is running for President.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Colonel Ramon Zagala told the media they would look into the matter and that the military does not tolerate such behavior.

Belle’s mother is a coconut farmer and member of Anakpawis Party-list, a political party championing farmer’s rights. She is also an active campaigner for Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (Return Coco Levy Funds to us) or CLAIM, an organization dedicated to recovering for farmers over a hundred billion pesos of funds squandered in the Coco Levy controversy during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Her community has long been targeted by the authorities. Under President Rodrigo Duterte, 347 peasant activists have been assassinated. They have been terrorized more than any other marginalized group in the Philippines.

Gabriela Secretary General Joms Salvador condemned the attack. “Rape is a very traumatic invasion one person can inflict on another. Graver still if it is used as a tool of the state to interrogate and torture a minor. Belle is the latest victim of this military strategy. With its billions of funds, NTF-ELCAC use iron hands and any tool that could harm its suspected communist targets, whom it labels as ‘terrorists.’”

The Children’s Rehabilitation Center also responded to Belle’s pleas for support by providing legal and psychological assistance. The group’s executive director Olivia Bernardo said, “Elements of the AFP are gruesomely using rape and torture as means of terrorizing families and communities maliciously branded by state forces as NPA supporters. In the context of the ongoing armed conflict in the Philippines, thousands of military elements are deployed in civilian communities who intentionally target women and girls with sexual violence in order to achieve particular military objectives.”

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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