CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/ 11 December) — Government forces set up several checkpoints along a key highway in Bukidnon to stop a caravan of hundreds of indigenous people from coming down to this city to protest militarization in their villages, but denied allegations they harassed the protesters.
The Manobos from Bukidnon coincided their protest rally with the celebration of the International Human Rights day.
Police detained seven minors who were traveling with the caravan without their parents.
Fr. Allan Khen Apus, spokesperson of Karapatan Northern Mindanao said the caravan was also harassed by military trucks full of soldiers and policemen as it traveled along the Sayre Highway from the Pantaron mountain range in Bukidnon to Cagayan de Oro.
Apus said many of the lumads were forced to sleep Sunday night along the highway on the backs of the trucks that ferried them to Cagayan de Oro.
“All these efforts are made to impede the voices of lumad protesting the militarization in their villages,” he said.
Philippine National Police Northern Mindanao spokesperson Supt. Surki Serenes denied the Army and PNP harassed the caravan of lumads.
Serenes said the Army and police set up three checkpoints in Malaybalay City and Impasugong town in Bukidnon and Barangay Baloy in Cagayan de Oro.
“We just reinforced these checkpoints. We did not have the intention of stopping the caravan,” he said.
He said the police personnel checked the vehicles for firearms and asked the lumads for identity papers.
He said after checking for guns and identity papers, the caravan was allowed to proceed.
He said the minors were detained at the checkpoint in Baloy when the police found they were traveling without their parents.
Serenes said they were later turned over to the Cagayan de Oro Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) for proper disposition.
He said the CSWDO required the parents of the children to be present during their release.
If the parents could not come, the agency will bring the children back to their villages, he added.
“The PNP is aware of the juvenile justice in our country. We did not detain any minors,” he said.
Lawyer Czarina Musni of the National Union of People’s Lawyers said they have agreed with the CSWDO proposal.
“The CSWD will have the children in custody and if their parents could not come for one reason or another, they will be the ones who will bring them back to their parents,” she said.
Two weeks ago, police and Army soldiers arrested 18 people including former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Act Teachers Rep. France Castro for allegedly taking children from a school for lumads in Talaingod town, Davao del Norte without the consent of their parents. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)