Balay Mindanaw to file complaint vs SWAT team that barged in and conducted ‘illegal search” at Peace Center

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 13 November) — “A taste of Martial Law.”

That was how Charlito “Kaloy” Manlupig, Chairman Emeritus of the Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. (BMFI) summed up what happened Wednesday afternoon at the Balay Mindanao Peace Center when a police SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team barged in and conducted what he described as an “illegal search” that traumatized its employees and young participants from Marawi who had just completed a two-day training on trauma healing and forgiveness.

The Balay Mindanaw Peace Center in Bulua houses the offices of the BMFI and its training center.

Photo of the vehicle of the Cagayan de Oro City Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team as it left after conducting what BMFI Chairman Emeritus Charlito Manlupig said was an “illegal search” in the Balay Mindanaw Peace Center in Bulua, Cagayan de Oro on Wednesday, November 13, 2019. Note the vehicle has no plate number. Photo courtesy of Balay Mindanaw

The 23-year old peace and development NGO will file a complaint against the police, Manlupig said.

According to Manlupig, uniformed armed SWAT policemen with K9 dogs “barged into the Balay Mindanaw Peace Center without asking permission, without even saying anything. They hurriedly left, again without saying a word.”

The SWAT team’s vehicle, which had no plate number, was photographed as it left the Center.

The SWAT team searched their lobby and the bags of Moro youth from Marawi who had just finished a two-day Training of Facilitators for Psychosocial Support.

The training had 20 youth participants from Marawi.

Manlupig said the youngsters, survivors of the five-month Marawi Siege in 2017 who are volunteers in providing psychosocial support, had checked out of their rooms and had placed their bags at the lobby of the Peace Center when the SWAT team arrived.

“The K9 handler focused on inspecting the bags. They hurriedly left, again without saying a word,” he said.

Manlupig said the SWAT team did not introduce themselves and did not present a search warrant to the staff of BMFI.

“The police officers conducted the search without saying any word. It traumatized all of our staff and the volunteers,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte placed Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities under martial law on May 23, 2017, Day 1 of the Marawi Siege, supposedly only for 60 days but he asked Congress for three extensions, the last one to expire on December 31 this year. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, concurrent martial law administrator, earlier this week recommended the lifting of martial law and the strengthening of the Human Security Act.

Maj. Ivan Viñas, spokesperson of the Cagayan de Oro Police apologized for what he referred to as “a misunderstanding.”

Viñas promised the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office will conduct an investigation on the SWAT team that conducted the search.

“We will sanction them if we find they committed lapses,” he said.

He said the Philippine National Police regional office in Camp Alagar ordered the SWAT team in Cagayan de Oro to conduct a search after the Australian embassy in Manila allegedly informed them that one of their officials would visit the office of Balay Mindanaw.

“The search was a routine procedure. We apologize that it created some misunderstanding,” Viñas said.

Manlupig, however, said Balay Mindanaw had no activity on Wednesday  involving the Australian embassy.

“From whom or where did the PNP get the info that we were expecting Australian dignitaries? We were expecting none. Nobody, not even the Australian Embassy informed us. We had hosted many dignitaries in the past, and we are familiar with security protocol,” Manlupig said.

Earlier, the Philippine Army labeled Oxfam, the charitable arm of a federation of churches worldwide as “a front organization” of the New People’s Army and other communist organizations.

Last month, the military raided offices of progressive groups in Bacolod city and arrested 62 of its officers.BMFI is a Mindanao-based and Mindanao focused humanitarian and development organization which has been working in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao as well as in disaster sites.

The BMFI has also worked with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, through its peacebuilding and conflict-management trainings. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews with reports)