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May 15, 2008

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Presence of Military Troops in Pananuman, Abra Has Devastating Effects on the People's Health

The occupation of the village of Pananuman in Tubo, Abra by troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in March to April 2008 has had devastating effects on the health of the people. A medical team from CHESTCORE (Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera Region) has documented both physical and psychological illnesses which are directly linked to the presence of these armed troops.

The Pananuman villagers continue to experience sleep disorders, lack of appetite, headaches, palpitations and chest pain, as well as anxiety attacks as a result of the illegal searches, interrogations, verbal abuse and grave threats made by the AFP's 50th Infantry Battalion (Charlie Company) under Lt. Dalven Abdul Rashid Avila and Lt. June Pedregoza. Increased incidence of stress-related and stress-induced conditions such as hypertension and asthma was also noted by CHESTCORE.

The conduct of the military troops puts the people, especially the women, children and elderly, at great risk for developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened*.

PTSD can be triggered by military activities such as the launching of bombs in the midst of the village at all hours of the day and night. Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma*.

Many of those suffering from stress and anxiety symptoms were identified during group counseling sessions with women and children:

" Two children, aged 13 and 10, were confronted by the military as they were walking home from school. They were being forced to admit that their father was hiding guns and documents owned by the New People's Army. They were shown a sack in which the soldiers threatened to put them if they did not surrender the key to their house.
" A woman suffers from anxiety attacks and flashbacks everytime she recalls how her husband was interrogated and threatened in front of her by military troops. The soldiers repeatedly pointed their guns at her husband, threatening to butcher (parte) him if he did not admit to their allegations that he was a messenger for the New People's Army.
" Infant twins, who were only 2-3 months old at the time of the military occupation of Pananuman, repeatedly suffered disruption of their sleep and feeding as bombs were fired at random hours. Their house was searched and ransacked as well.

The AFP may have temporarily left Pananuman but the effects of the human rights violations they have committed continue to scar the villagers. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be extremely disabling. When left untreated, it can lead to clinical depression (needing prolonged medication) and/or alcoholism and drug abuse.

CHESTCORE strongly condemns the human rights violations committed by the AFP in Pananuman. The presence of the military has directly resulted in the deterioration of the physical and mental health of the people.

For reference, please contact:
Ana Marie R. Leung, MD (Executive Director) at (0920)9060587
*Source of data: US National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)

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