EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT: “The police started to swing their truncheons, hitting the unarmed Lumads”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 July) — I could not grasp the thought of a congresswoman in pursuing her own agenda of coercing IPs (Indigenous Peoples) to go home without listening to why they evacuated in the first place.

The bloody and forcible entry and dispersal of the anti-riot police, military and Alamara among the Lumad evacuees last July 23, in UCCP Haran Compound evacuation center in Davao City, was a clear reflection of military abuse and harassment experienced by the IPs in their communities. Furthermore, the brutal means of Nancy Catamco, Alamara – a local paramilitary group – and the police was sugarcoated as a ‘rescue operation’.

Ant-iriot policemen clash with Lumads who are seeking refuge at the United Church of Christ of the Philippines’s (UCCP) Haran Compound along Father Selga St. in Davao City Thursday (23 July 2015).MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

I was there. I was witnessing the continuation of classes of about 300 Lumad children when the police started to cut-off and destroy the gate. Then the police started to swing their truncheons, hitting the unarmed Lumads who tried to fend off their attacks while trying to block the entrance. As some of the tribesmen were bloodied and bruised, the women and children screamed as they looked on horrified.

The children were immediately evacuated to Haran’s main building while their parents tried to stop the police from entering the gates. Visibly anxious and terrified, the children huddled to their mothers who were trying to appease and comfort the little ones even as they also felt helpless and uncertain of their children’s security, especially after hearing the loud ruckus at the gate and hearing their ‘datus’ screaming “sagdok” calling for the police to “stop”  from entering.

The children were all kept safely in a room inside the compound of Haran. A 12 year-old student then asked me if he could go help in keeping the police from entering. Of course, I told him not to, adding “now is not your time.” He then asked me why could they [soldiers and police] not leave them alone in peace? “Didto sa bukid, mahadlok gyud mi kay magkampo sila sa among mga balay ug eskwelahan, karon diri sa ubos, hadlokon na pud mi nila unya pugson nga paulion. Asa na lang man diay mi ani moadto” (In the mountains, we were fearful that soldiers were camping in our homes and our schools, and now here they are, ensnaring us and forcing us to go back where we do not feel safe.  Where will we go now?), the child lamented.

I wish I could explain it to him how rooted this conflict was. But at that moment I only assured him that this is going to be okay. That we, together with their parents will defend them at all cost. That these children, these Lumads don’t deserve this kind of treatment. And that no matter how Nancy Catamco or the police say it, rescue, or anything else, it is apparent who the aggressors are, and certainly it is not the ones who were inside the gate, (Rius Valle is spokesperson of Save Our Schools Network in Southern Mindanao)