DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 October) — Participants to a recent peace mission today said government troops have been using a barangay hall and daycare learning center in a barangay here as outpost since June this year.
The 80-member mission called Exodus for Justice and Peace, which visited Barangay Pandaitan, Paquibato District last October 6, called for a military pullout from the community, saying it is an urgent necessity.
The mission presented a video report in a press conference here, showing military personnel with high-powered rifles found in the two-storey barangay hall of Pandaitan.
Pastor Jurie Jaime, spokesperson of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, said they saw military uniforms, weapons and ammunition, hammocks and boots scattered in the place.
He said the ground floor of the same building also serves as a daycare center for 5- and 6-year old children.
Lt. Col. Inocencio Pasaporte, commander of the 69th Infantry Battalion said in a text message the barangay hall was abandoned by the barangay council which offered it instead as a place where the Army’s peace and development teams (PDT) may stay.
He said the barangay council is using the barangay hall annex in Sitio Tibungol, “maybe due to reasons of proximity and prevailing security conditions at that time.”
But the EJP said the barangay leaders reported that they were unable to use the public facility and were forced to conduct their sessions at the multi-purpose building in Tibungol.
Pasaporte countered that before the PDTs came for their immersion the building was already abandoned by the barangay council.
“Tall grasses abound [sic] in the surroundings as the building was not being used by the barangay council for their session. The PDTs cleaned the building and its surroundings,” he said in a text message.
He added that it was after the security situation had improved that Kagawad Eunice Cassanova facilitated the transfer of the day care center, “which is also a welcome development for us.”
Jaime said based on the peace missioners’ discussion-consultation with the barangay captain and council members, the village leaders had demanded the pullout of the military but were disappointed when Mayor Sara Duterte endorsed the PDTs during a meeting in June this year in Calinan.
That is why the barangay leaders of Pandaitan were coerced to abandon the building when the military started using the barangay hall even if it was newly constructed and concrete, he added.
Duterte said in a text message today that she did not say that the military may stay in public buildings, although she did endorse the PDTs to the barangay captains.
“In fact, the battalion commander of 69th IB has been told several times to instruct his men to set up away from areas where the public converge,” she added.
Converting a barangay hall and daycare center into a detachment violates children’s rights as provided for in Republic Act 7610, said the KABIBA Alliance for Children’s Rights.
Section 22 of RA 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act) states that public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and rural health units shall not be utilized for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots.
Bishop Modesto Villasanta, EJP co-convener said: “The whole community, especially the children, is subject to grave danger. This purposeful and witting act by the military to undermine local governmental functions and civilian supremacy, the gross violation of the rights of women and children go beyond what is humane, Christian-like and what is mandated in the Int’l Humanitarian Law (IHL).”
Karapatan said that the mission documented nine violations of human rights and international humanitarian law allegedly perpetrated by the military.
The alleged violations included arbitrary detention, psychological torture, harassment and attacks on or use of schools, medical, religious and other public places of facilities for military purposes.
“We should have already learned from what happened in Barangay Fatima that a civilian community, especially a day care learning center, is no place for the military to be,” Villasanta added.
The New People’s Army lobbed a grenade at a temporary military detachment adjacent to a covered court where a circus was being held in Fatima village last September 1. At least 48 civilians were wounded in the blast.
Asked whether the military will move out from the barangay hall, Pasaporte said they would leave the place after the conduct of their needs assessment survey, which is getting the “real issues and needs of the barangay.”
“We would like to finish it (survey) as early as possible so we can survey other inner sitios of other barangays like Salapawan and Tapak,” he added. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)