TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte (MindaNews / 29 Nov) — Eighteen members of a national fact-finding mission, among them ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro and Bayan Muna President Satur Ocampo, are facing charges of trafficking, kidnapping and failure to return a minor after attempting to rescue students of a Lumad school in Barangay Palma Gil from alleged harassment.
The Talaingod Municipal Police Station, represented by its police chief, Sr. Insp. Rogaciano Gara filed on Thursday, November 29, a complaint against the 18 for alleged “violation of RA 10364 in to RA 7610 and kidnapping and failure to return a minor.”
RA 10364 is Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 while RA 7610 is the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act. Section 10a states that “any person who shall commit any other acts of child abuse, cruelty or exploitation. … shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its minimum period.”
Provincial Prosecutor Norman Solis in his Inquest Resolution issued early evening of November 29, said that based on the evidence presented by the complainant, “there is probable cause to indict respondents for violation of RA 7610, Article VI, Section 10a” and recommended a bail bond of 80,000 pesos each.
Solis gave them 10 days from November 29 to submit their counter-affidavits.
Castro, former Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Ocampo and Meggie Nolasco, executive director of the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC), are detained at the municipal police station, along with nine teachers of the Salugpongan, two members of ACT party list and four pastors from the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) and United Methodist Church in Davao City.
The 18 were among a 74-member delegation of the National Solidarity and Fact-Finding Mission (NSFFM).
Nolasco said they were blocked by elements of the 56th Infantry Battalion at a checkpoint in Sitio Igang, Barangay Palma Gil at around 8 p.m. Wednesday and were required to sign up in a logbook as proof of their presence in the area.
She recalled that the convoy of five vans which included 14 children and some teachers, was moving out of Talaingod when they were stopped again at around 9:35 p.m. in Barangay Sto. Niño and interrogated by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO).
She claimed the delegation was “harassed, licenses of their drivers were unjustly taken” and nail spikes were scattered on the road to deflate the wheels of two out of five vans.
“While the wheels were being replaced, broken glass was thrown at another van of the delegates of the NSFFM. Two masked men riding in tandem also fired gunshots,” she said
“Illegally holding minors”
According to a press release issued by Capt. Erick Wynmer Calulot, Public Information Officer of the 1003rd Brigade, the group of Ocampo and Castro was allegedly “illegally holding 14 minors.”
“The group under Ocampo (was) on board five vans when they were put to a halt past 9 p.m. Wednesday by the PNP Talaingod after it was found out during a random checkpoint that the convoy of five vans held minor children who came from different parts of Mindanao and was headed to an unknown destination the group would not reveal,” the press release said.
“Further inspection revealed that the group (was) composed of minors, prompting the PNP to coordinate with the local government’s local social welfare and development officer who profiled the group and rescued the minors of the group,” it said.
Detained aside from Castro, Ocampo and Nolasco are Pastor Edgar Ugal, Reverends Ryan Magpayo and Jurie Jaime of the UCCP Davao, and Pastor Eller Ordeza of the United Methodist Davao; Jesus Modamo and Maryro Poquita, staffmembers of the ACT Teachers’ Party List; and Salugpongan Community Learning Center teachers Maria Concepcion Ibarra, Jenevive Paraba, Nerhaya Talledo, Maricel Andagkit, Marcial Rendon, Ariel Ansan, Mariane Aga, Nerfa Awing and Wingwing Dansay.
The PNP Provincial Police Office in Tagum City, Davao del Norte in a press release referred to Ocampo’s arrest as “incidental.”
“The rescue of 14 minors (has) resulted to the arrest (of) 18 individuals who transported said minors without authority and further implementation of the warrant of arrest to Mr. Satur Ocampo by virtue of warrant of arrest issued by Hon. Evelyn Atienza-Turla, Presiding Judge of third judicial region, Branch 40, Palayan City,” the press release said.
Ocampo was charged with three other activists Liza Maza, Rafael Mariano and Teddy Casino for double murder in 2016 and the judge issued a warrant of arrest against the four last July 11. On August 1, she inhibited herself from hearing the case and it was raffled off to another judge, Trece Wenceslao.
“We condemn this move of the military. Clearly this is a form of harassment meant to delay the delivery of goods and services in the Lumad community school,” Nolasco said in a telephone interview Wednesday night.
Nolasco said the police “also forcibly took the keys and licenses and drivers were also invited inside the police station.”
The NSFFM had intended to deliver school supplies and goods at Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Nolasco said.
She said the mission was organized after the same army unit and members of the paramilitary group Alamara blocked on November 25 the entry of food into the communities of Barangay Palma Gil.
Earlier on Wednesday evening, Nolasco said the Alamara padlocked the Dulyan campus of the Salugpongan school.
“About 15 to 20 members of the Alamara were seen loitering around the school’s vicinity, harassing the students, teachers and locals which prompted the volunteer teachers to seek a safe sanctuary,” she said.
“The students are forcibly evicted from their school. There were armed men and several other tribal leaders who brought hammers, nails, and boards and closed our school. Before that incident last night, some leaders made the pronouncement that they no longer want Salugpongan in Sitio Dulyan,” Nolasco said.
Capt. Jerry Lamosao, spokesperson of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division spokesperson said the closure of the Salugpungan School was administered by Department of Education and enforced by the Lumad leaders in the area.
“This goes to show that the IP communities in Talaingod reject the Salugpungan schools and that people like Satur Ocampo will go to this extent in exploiting the Lumads and their children,” he said.
“The minors with ages ranging from 14 years old to 17 years old came from Talaingod and as far away as Bukidnon and Sultan Kudarat provinces,” Lamasao said.
No parental consent
Nolasco said that Talaingod police chief Sr. Insp. Rogaciano Gara claimed they violated Anti-Child Abuse and Anti-Human Trafficking Laws for bringing the children without the consent of the parents.
She acknowledged having failed to bring copies of the consent because the children and students were under an emergency situation.
“They are not looking at the context of our rescue. It’s the students and teachers who asked for our help due to the harassments. Our primary goal was to secure the students and ensure their welfare and whatever legal documents they need we can comply after we bring them to safer place,” she said.
Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, commander of the AFP Eastern Command said the army and police decided to stop the convoy of Ocampo after they received complaints from some parents and tribal datus that their children were allegedly forcibly taken. (Mart Sambalud with reports from Antonio L. Colina IV, Froilan Gallardo and Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)