Davao Norte gov, Salugpongan school head trade barbs over arrest of Talaingod 18

The Talaingod 18 at the regional trial court in Tagum City on 01 December 2018, shortly before they were released on bail. Photo courtesy of Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 4 December) – The governor of Davao del Norte and the head of the school for Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) in Talaingod town exchanged tirades over the arrest of former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo and other personalities last week.

In a statement on Tuesday, Governor Anthony del Rosario said the arrest of Ocampo, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro and 16 other individuals behind the supposed the National Solidarity and Fact-Finding mission on November 27 “exposed the wiles of the leftist organizations in using the IPs to push their own agenda.”

Collectively called the Talaingod 18, Ocampo and his companions were arrested in Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod for transporting 14 minors to “rescue” them from being harassed by the paramilitary group Alamara.

They, however, were blocked by police and the 56th Infantry Battalion, arrested and detained at the municipal police station for alleged kidnapping, human trafficking and child abuse.

The Provincial Prosecutor on November 29 found probable cause in the child abuse complaint, recommended bail for 80,000 each and gave them 10 days to file their counter-affidavits. The group was granted temporary liberty Saturday night after posting bail of  80,000 each or a total of 1.44 million pesos.

Del Rosario said the local government unit and tribal leaders demanded the closure of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) in Barangay Palma Gil, “for its questionable motive” but that the progressive groups exploited the situation to “demonize the government and raise funds for their benefit.”

He claimed that authorities and tribal leaders decried how the Salugpongan, a boarding school which houses Lumad students coming from distant areas of North Cotabato, Bukidnon, and Zamboanga peninsula, was used for their anti-government propaganda and training ground for their armed struggle.

He said the groups that conducted a fact-finding mission, supposedly to investigate allegations of harassments by the Alamara, failed to coordinate with the LGUs, national government agencies and Lumad leaders for their own safety.

“They did not even secure a written consent from the Provincial Government of Davao del Norte, among other protocol. The mission failed to show that it is bent on upholding the best interest of the Lumad children,” he added.

The governor said their non-coordination brought to light their “clear motive of exploiting the Lumad students to pursue their selfish objectives and their arrest showed that the rule of law can prevail despite the maneuverings, threat and intimidation of the leftist groups.”

Reacting to del Rosario, Meggie Nolasco, executive director of STTICLC maintained that they asked help from the LGU for weeks on the intimidations from the military and Alamara and the threat to shut down their school but the officials refused to act.

“We get only harsh words from them. All of these can be supported by our letters of communication received by their offices. I personally have been to their offices several times to plead for help yet no one made any concrete action,” she said.

She added various government agencies exposed “their inutility and now they are pointing at each other as if they have no responsibility and accountability.”

“The incident revealed how the age-old conflict between the government and those who seek to overthrow it took its toll on our innocent and disadvantaged IP brothers and sisters,” she said.

Del Rosario said genuine pro-poor governance is the key to alleviate the lives of the IPs and not the “divisive schemes” of the activists.

He added the provincial government has strengthened programs to ensure a safe and nurturing environment for the Lumad children and that he will not allow a few individuals to mar the development momentum of  Talaingod.

He said the government has expanded education programs for the IP communities, among them the launch of Talaingod Cultural Heritage Village, creation of Talaingod-DavNor runners to train Lumad kids, and establishment of Davao del Norte State College – Datu Jose A. Libayao Extension Campus.

The tribal school offers a diploma in agriculture technology without sacrificing the living traditions, values and practices of the Lumad youth, he said.

“This is our tangible way of nurturing them to become catalyst in improving the lot of our IP communities in the only tribal town of the Davao Region,” he said.

He said they have also started efforts to make Talaingod a vegetable capital and livestock hub.

“I invite the leftist organizations to stop exploiting our poor Lumads and start working closely with the government in genuinely advancing the rights, protection, welfare and development of our IP people,” he said.

He called on the other government agencies to pool their resources together and strengthen their commitment in advancing the socio-economic development in Talaingod complex down to the mineral-rich Pantaron Range, also a source of water for Davao Region, Northern Mindanao, and Caraga. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)