Protesters barricade Davao City highway

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 March) – A protest action along the Davao-Butuan highway in Panacan fronting the entrance of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) caused a six-hour gridlock as hundreds of protesters from militant groups and Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) barricaded the highway’s four lanes, blocking traffic flow to and from the city, to call on the national government to, among others, pull out troops from Lumad schools and communities in Compostela Valley, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte and Agusan del Sur.

Protesters at the barricade in Panacan , Davao City, fronting the Eastern Mindanao Command on March 18. The protest action caused a six-hour gridlock. MindaNews photo by ANTONIO L. COLINA IV Protesters at the barricade in Panacan , Davao City, fronting the Eastern Mindanao Command on March 18. The protest action caused a six-hour gridlock. MindaNews photo by ANTONIO L. COLINA IV

Protesters, among them Lumads (indigenous peoples) from these four provinces who sought refuge in the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in downtown Davao City, farmers, small miners and members of militant groups barricaded four lanes starting at 9:30 a.m. but by 4 p.m. occupied only two after Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is on a Presidential campaign sortie in Luzon, asked organizers to free the lanes to allow passage of thousands of stranded commuters.

The barricade ended shortly before 8:30 p.m.

City Administrator Melchor Quitain arrived at around 12:15 noon and got Mayor Duterte on the phone to speak to Kerlan Fanagel, chair of the Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organization in South Mindanao Region.

Fanagel said the mayor promised to air their concern to the national government.

He said protesters are demanding the pull out of troops from Lumad schools and communities; disarming of paramilitary groups; indemnification and safe return of evacuees to their communities; indemnification, rehabilitation and rebuilding of damaged schools; arrest of soldiers who violated human rights; and end to vilification, threat and political harassment; dropping of all trumped-up charges; revocation of all large-scale foreign mining firms’ exploration and operation permits, and removal of North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco as chair of the House Committee on Indigenous National Cultural Communities and Indigenous Peoples.

Fanagel said a representative from the Department of Education was on its way to the rally venue. He said they want DepEd to lift Memorandum 221 which he said allows military encampments in schools in Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Bukidnon, and Agusan del Sur.

He said they will continue their barricade and warned of closing the two lanes again, if no DepEd official shows up.

As of 6 p.m., no DepEd official arrived at the barricade site.

By 8:30 p.m., the protesters left after a dialogue with Janette Veloso, DepEd regional chief on Curriculum and Learning Management Division.

Why all lanes?

Fanagel appealed to the public to understand them because “we are fighting for our rights.”

Affected residents phoned radio stations and posted on Facebok to complain about the gridlock, The general sentiment aired was that protesters have rights to be protected but so have commuters. Many criticized the organizers for occupying all four lanes while others lambasted traffic enforcers for not acting quickly.

Passengers on the way to the airport also complained of missing flights due to the traffic while some were seen disembarking from non-moving vehicles to walk with their luggage to the airport.

“Hasol kaayo pero katungod nila nga gipasibaw sa ilang gibati” (It’s so inconvenient but it is also their right to protest), commuter Leoniza Covero said.

Dionesio Claro said he was supposed to fetch his child from a school downtown but could not find a ride due to the traffic. He admits he was disappointed but understands the protesters’ need to seek responses

Drivers of jeepneys that brought protesters from Haran compound to Panacan, said their agreement was supposed to be for half a day only, up to 11 a.m. “Paabot lang kung kanus-a mahuman ang ingon sa amo. Walay paniduto og walay pameryenda” (We were told to wait until it’s over. We were not given lunch and snacks), said one of the drivers. He said 14 jeepneys were hired to ferry the Lumads from Haran to Panacan and back.

The Eastern Mindanao Command in a statement said they respect “every Filipino’s freedom of expression, foremost, we will always respect and uphold the rights of the Lumads and will continue to be your partner in sustaining the gains of all our peace and security efforts.” (Antonio L. Colina IV/ MindaNews)