DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 February) – A Lumad leader took to task the commander of Task Force Davao for claiming the February 24 dawn fire at the UCCP Haran compound that injured at least five persons, including a two-year old boy, was “orchestrated” by the Lumads to gain sympathy and donations.
“Sunugon namo ang among kaugalingon para magka-kwart mi?” (We will set ourselves on fire to gain money?), Kerlan Fenagel, chair of the Pasaka Lumad Regional Confederation-Southern Mindanao Region asked in a press conference Thursday at the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines’ (UCCP).
He said the statement of Task Force Davao (TFD) commander, Col. Cristobal Zaragoza is is an insult to them and the rest of the Filipino people.
Tata Manayab breastfeeds her 2-year old son Demon while waiting for medical attention inside a makeshift clinic at UCCP Haran compound, Padre Selga Street, Davao City on February 24, 2016. Demon suffered burns in his hands and face after unidentified men torched their camp where they are seeking refuge. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
At the AFP-PNP press conference at the TFD headquarters on Wednesday, TFD commander, Col. Cristobal Zaragoza said the fire in Haran could have been a move to gain attention to receive more donations.
“It can be them or it can be somebody else (behind the fire incident). The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) will not go that far. We are protecting the people,” he said.
Initial investigation by San Pedro Police Station said five unidentified men burned the temporary shelter located near Gate 2 of the evacuation center. The Bureau of Fire Protection has yet to release its findings.
Brig. Gen. Ronnie Evangelista, Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) deputy commander said the military is open for investigation on the Haran fire incident.
“Anong makukuha namin? Bakit sila mag-finger point agad? (What can we get? Why are they pointing their fingers at us?),” he asked.
But Crestoni Latiban Monzon, secretary general of Pasaka-SMR, countered by saying they don’t have anyone in mind to blame for the fire other than the military and the paramilitary groups that they allegedly armed. He alleged it was a planned attack perpetrated by the AFP, an allegation the military denied.
Monzon said they recovered materials such as stick, gallon, and green and black colored Nike bag that contained the 1.5 empty liter allegedly containing the diesel used to burn the makeshift shelter and two dormitories.
The gallon was found near Gate 2 where the fire broke out while the bag that contained the empty bottle was discovered within the compound by morning.
The first incident took place at the five-room evacuation shelter at 2:30 a.m. and injured five Lumads — Magno Kulot, 14, Odessa Dumol, 12 and mother Elondia Dumol, 45, Loloy Manayab, 30, and son Demon, 2, all from Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
The shelter immediately caught fire as it is made of light materials.
The victims were brought to Southern Philippines Medical Center at 3 a.m. but they said they were not attended to until they left at 8 a.m.
“Naa mi mga medical practitioners diri karon nga naga-atiman sa ilaha (We have medical practioners here in Haran who are attending to them),” he said.
About 10 minutes after the fire was put out, Monzon recalled hearing an explosion and another fire ensued.
“Naay nag-ingon sa amo usa ka tricycle driver nga naa na pud daw nasunog (The tricycle driver shouted that there was another fire),” he added.
Electricity also tripped as the electric meter was deliberately removed from its post using a metal rod.
For the second incident, Monzon said the suspects likely found their way to the compound through a path that exits near Brokenshire Hospital, as they noticed that some strips of barbed wire fence were cut.
The dormitories — Walter Tong and Gregorio Gonzales — were about a meter apart where female and male borders, who are students and workers of the center, were housed.
Giovannie Mongado, a third year Bachelor in Physical Education Student of Brokenshire College of Davao, said they heard an explosion that was loud enough to rouse them from sleep.
He said they immediately got out of their room and rushed to the nearby Upper Gonzales dormitory to save the female boarders who were still inside their room.
He said all their belongings were lost to fire.
Grace Avila, Haran Evacuation Center manager Grace Avila said around 20 affected boarders were transferred to the main building after the incident.
She said there could have been casualties if the male boarders had not rushed to rescue the female boarders.
The survivors underwent stress debriefing.
Avila asked for help from the local police as the 1.5-hectare Haran compound only had one security guard.
Fanagel said there are about 700 lumads who are staying at the Haran from Brgy. White Kulaman in Bukidnon and Kapalong and Talaingod in Davao del Norte since May 2015.
About 200 lumads from Talaingod returned to their homes last December 2015 but they came back on January 29, 2016 after a 15-year old student of Salugpongan TaTan Igkanugon Community Learning Center was allegedly killed by members of the paramilitary group Alamara on January 17.
But Datu Lumansad Sibogan, a member of the board of trustees of the Council of Elders, said Tingkas, his grandson, was killed during a pangayaw or tribal war at Sitio Laslasakan, Brgy. Palma Gil, Talaingod. (Antonio L. Colina IV/ MindaNews)