5 rights activists sued for child abuse post bail in Davao

Tension escalated at the UCCP Haran compound along Fr. Selga Street in Davao City on Saturday , January 25, 2020, when alleged relatives of Lumad families from Kapalong and Talaingod, Davao del Norte and San Fernando in Bukidnon, barged through the evacuation center. The Pasaka Group Confederation of Lumads claimed the alleged relatives were  members of the Alamara, a paramilitary group. Photo by BING GONZALES of Mindanao Times

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 April) – Five of the six human rights activists who were ordered arrested last April 21 by the Regional Trial Court-Branch 12 in Davao City posted bail on Thursday.

They are facing charges of child abuse in relation to the presence of Lumad evacuees inside the Haran Evacuation Center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City.

In an order dated April 29, Presiding Judge Dante A. Baguio ordered the authorities to desist from arresting Bishop Hamuel Tequis, Rev. Daniel Palicte, Ephraim Malazarte, Lindy Trenilla, and Grace Avila after the five accused filed a cash bond worth P300,000 or at P60,000 each.

Jong Monzon, Secretary-General of PASAKA Confederation of Lumad Organizations in South Mindanao Region, one of the six accused “administrators and personalities” of Haran, did not post bail.

The judge set the arraignment and pre-trial of the six accused at 8:30 a.m. of July 16, 2021.

In a statement, Police Regional Office Davao director BGen. Filmore B. Escobal said the arrest warrant was issued for violation of Republic Act 7610, also known as Special Protection of Children against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act or Anti-Child Abuse Law.

He said the accused were responsible for the death of an infant inside the evacuation center during the pandemic and the failure to report the condition of children suffering illnesses and diseases to the City Health Office.

“Our ultimate aim is to end the exploitation of IPs (indigenous peoples) by fake revolutionaries, and UCCP Haran Administrators could be of help in achieving it. If the administrators of Haran could just use their voice to discourage IPs from supporting fake revolutionaries, they could just let them go back to their community, the people there would have been living in a suitable environment now,” he said.

He said several attempts have been made since 2015 to “rescue” the Lumads taking refuge at the evacuation center due to the complaints from their leaders and families that their relatives were allegedly brought to Haran from their homes.

“There were allegations that personalities behind UCCP Haran are exploiting the IPs and utilizing them for activities that are against the government. While some IP minors are being engaged as NPAs (New People’s Army),” he said.

He said families housed inside the evacuation center were going through “a tough situation, with limited food and water and deplorable sanitation.”

Despite the closure of the Salugpongan schools for the Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) in Mindanao, learning continues even in makeshift classrooms at the evacuation center in the United Church of Christ of the Philippines’ Haran compound in Davao City. Photo taken in July 2019 by BING GONZALES

As of 1:45 p.m. Friday, Jay Apiag, Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region secretary-general, has yet to comment on the incident.

In a statement Friday, the Promotion of Church People’s Response called the charges against the accused another example of the “weaponization of the law under the Duterte administration.”

“The Promotion of Church People’s Response stands in solidarity with the UCCP and the affected Lumad to call for peace-building and healthy resolution of any identified weaknesses in the administration of the UCCP-HARAN ministry with displaced Lumad. We stand firmly on the imperatives of Christian faith that guide the mission and ministries of Bishop Hamuel Tequis and other leaders of the UCCP.

“Furthermore, we sound the alarm on these latest efforts to label as ‘terrorism’ what is clearly Church ministry; this is another manifestation of the clear and present dangers for increased repression and oppression under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and other similar laws,” the statement added. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)