DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 January) — Police barred members of the media from entering the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) evacuation center in the Haran compound where leaders of human rights groups were to hold a press briefing at 1 p.m. on Saturday regarding the earlier standoff between them and Lumads from Kapalong and Talaingod, Davao Del Norte believed to be members of a paramilitary group who allegedly stormed the center at around 9 a.m. to convince their evacuee-relatives to return home.
Even church officials were initially barred entry in the compound.
Col. Kirby Kraft, chief of the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) told reporters at 1:02 p.m. that the lockdown was enforced since 11 a.m. as authorities were uncertain of the situation inside the evacuation center, if the tension had already eased off.
“Hindi natin alam ang sitwasyon baka magkagulo (We do not know the situation, there might be trouble),” he said.
Haran hosts an estimated 400 Lumads from Talaingod and Kapalong towns in Davao del Norte and other areas who sought sanctuary there to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between government forces and the New People’s Army in their hinterland villages.
The Save Our Schools Network said members of the Alamara paramilitary group “attacked the sanctuary with bladed weapons and destroyed the gates and fences of UCCP Haran” at around 9 a.m. on Saturday.
It added that as of 12 noon, “despite these attacks and destruction of property, the PNP (Philippine National Police) did not arrest the paramilitary members of Alamara.”
Kraft told MindaNews the police recovered no bladed weapons and saw no one carrying bladed weapons.
The “attack,” according to SOS Network, came 10 days after the Regional Peace and Order Council in Region 11 (RPOC-11) approved a resolution seeking the immediate closure of the UCCP’s Haran evacuation center.
Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib moved for the closure claiming the Lumads are being exploited by communist rebels while Davao Oriental Governor Nelson Dayanghirang, RPOC-XI chair, said the center was violating the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, and other laws against child abuse, serious illegal detention and human trafficking.
“Wala moy katungod”
The presscon proceeded at around 1:30 p.m. attended only by reporters from Radyo ni Juan and Kilab Multmedia who were already inside the center before the lockdown happened.
Before the lockdown, some television and radio reporters managed to sneak in through the destroyed fence, taken down earlier from the roadside by people who claimed to be relatives of the Lumads staying at the evacuation center but which the SOS Network claimed were members of the Alamara paramilitary group.
Leaders from Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organization in Southern Mindanao, Karadyawan, Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon in Talaingod, and UCCP-Southern Mindanao sat during the briefing and issued statements condemning the alleged harassments against the Lumad bakwits allegedly by the military-backed Alamara.
Aside from reporters, personnel associated with the UCCP and volunteers helping the evacuees who have been staying there since 2014 were prevented from entering Haran.
A confrontation between UCCP conference minister Rev. Dan Palicte and police officers cordoning off the gate ensued as the Pastor was barred from entering the premises. Insistent, the irate Palicte was later allowed entry into the compound.
“Order among gipangayo. Wala moy katungod. (We are asking for the order. You have no right),” the pastor said. He asked for a copy of Kraft’s written order barring them entry into their compound but no copy was given him.
Kraft lambasted the human rights groups. Instead of holding a media briefing to “buy time,” he said, they should allow the evacuees to leave the center and return to their communities with their relatives.
“Dapat sundin nila ang sinasabi ng kabilang panig. Kasi kung walang tinatago bakit hindi nila iharap ang mga tao. Yun ang problema sa kanila ayaw nila ilabas ang mga tao.(They should obey what the other side wants. If they are not hiding anything, why don’t they allow them to face the people. That’s the problem, they don’t want to bring them out),” he said.
Kraft denied the police harassed the evacuees. He said they were deployed to maintain peace and order.
“Sino ang nang-harass sa kanila? Walang harassment (Who harassed them? There is no harassment) We are here to maintain peace and order. Kung hindi papasok baka magkagulo, masisi ang mga police (If we don’t come in, there could be another tension, and the police will be blamed),” he said.
UCCP head Bishop Hamuel Tequis denied allegations they were forcing the Lumads to stay.
“Walay ingon ana sa UCCP Haran. Ang gusto mo uli, uli, ang gusto magpabilin, bilin. Sa pagkakaron walay gusto mouli, mao among naobserbahan sa mga nagbakwit dire. Walay gidilian na mouli (There is nothing like that in UCCP Haran. Those who want to leave, they can leave; those who want to stay, they can stay. At this time, we observe that no one wants to go home. We do not disallow them from going home),” he said.
“Illegal and forced entry”
In a statement, House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat condemned what they said was an “illegal and forced entry of the military-backed Alamara paramiliyary group” in UCCP’s Haran compound.
“This is now the result of the instigation and red tagging of the National Task Force-End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which has been calling for the closure of the Haran sanctuary. This unjust, even illegal, instigation has resulted in this brazen disregard by the paramilitary Alamara of legal processes,” Zarate said.
Zarate said the “rabid witchhunt,” which he said was supported and encouraged by “complicit local officials,” have caused destruction, fear and anarchy.
“It may even result to death because the Alamara has operated and acted with impunity akin to what the private army of the warlord Ampatuan did in Maguindanao. These terror attacks on the Lumads now in Haran should stop now. We are calling on freedom loving people to stand up with Lumads in protecting their rights,” Zarate said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)