Arrested NGO workers claim captors tortured them

Mary Bernadette Solitario, 22, a staffmember of the Disaster Response Center (DIRECT), an NGO based in Davao City, identified her captors as members of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) based in North Cotabato.

Solitario, in an interview over DXND, said that immediately after they were arrested by eight motorcycle-riding men in Barangay La Esperanza,  they were brought to the headquarters of the Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion in Makilala, also a town in North Cotabato where they allegedly underwent “mental torture.’

“They accused us of being members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).   They asked us too many questions about the rebel movement,” she recounted.

She said she got irritated even more when her captors accused her of being part of the October 10 bombing in Makilala that killed six persons and injured 29 others.

Solitario and Lourelie Naiz, also a community organizer of DIRECT, were scheduled to conduct monitoring of one of the projects funded by the European Union (EU) in Barangay Batang, site of the recent armed clashes between the government troops and the NPA under Front 74.

Before they proceeded to the area last Saturday afternoon, they called up Tulunan Mayor Nestor Taasan to give them assessment of the area. “He (Mayor Taasan) assured us that everything’s OK, so we proceeded to the area,” she said.

Solitario clarified that what happened last Saturday “was a case of  illegal arrest, thus, considered a human right violation.”

“We were not just invited for an investigation, but we were placed in detention for more than 24 hours,” she claimed.

An Army official who declined to be identified told DXND the NGO workers were just invited to answer questions on why they, according to the military, “insisted” on proceeding to the village despite the restrictions imposed by the soldiers in the area.    

He stressed they did not intend to detain the workers.  “In fact, we were just protecting them from not being hurt or hit in the crossfire,” he explained.

The mortar shelling and the exchange of fires between the warring groups in Barangay Batang stopped Tuesday, according to Batang village chair Rudy Cadunggan.

Hundreds of villagers from sitio Lumusong, Barangay Batang fled to safer grounds when Army pounded mortars on the area, believed to be one of the rebels’ control centers in Tulunan.

At least nine mortars landed on the cogon lands in the area, according to Cadunggan.

“Based on our assessment, no civilian was hit during the cross fires, and no rice or corn field was destroyed due to the mortar shelling,” he said. 

In a press statement, Pastor Ernesto Estrella of the Interfaith Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights (IFAAPR) condemned the alleged abduction of two NGO workers and claimed this as human right violation.

Dili na kini ika-kugang, sanglit kanunay natong kasinatian nga kung ma-agrabyado ang militar sa ilang mga enkwentro batok sa NPA, ang mga sibilyan ang ilang pahimungtan (We are not surprised by this. As always, the military would attack the civilians when they are overpowered by NPA rebels during their encounters),” said Estrella.

The armed clashes started last November 3, a day after the NPA raided an Army company detachment in Barangay Bituan, also in Tulunan, and carted away 22 high-powered firearms, including 18 Garand rifles, three M-14, and one M-16 armalite rifles.