DAVAO CITY – A church who has been active in helping in the release of government soldiers captured by communist guerrillas said it is harassed by the military for giving sanctuary to children of the Higaonon tribe.
Bishop Raul Amorcillo, bishop of the Diocese of Malaybalay of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Aglipayan Church), said one of their priests is accused in the “abduction” of two minors, allegedly under the “pressure” of the Army.
“The two minors were said to have boarded a vehicle which fetched five Higaonon minors from the village of Sil-ipon in Libona whom the local church have given sanctuary to,” said Amorcillo in a phone interview with Davao Today.
Amorcillo said they had a dialogue with the minors’ parents morning of Wednesday in the Northern Mindanao town of Libona, Bukidnon.
“The family said a Cafgu (the Army’s paramilitary group Citizens Armed Force Geopraphical Unit) who filed the police blotter saw the two children board the vehicle and that the one who fetched them was our priest, Fr. (Rolando) Abejo,” said Amorcillo.
Fr. Abejo, is the parish prriest of San Luis and Social Concerns chair of IFI – Bukidnon Diocese.
“But we discovered that apparently the Cafgu was only shown a picture of Fr. Abejo by Army men. Fr. Abejo was not part of the group who fetched the other five children as he was presiding a mass that time,” he said.
In a statement, IFI bishops said that last April 5, 2015, “five (5) Higaonon minors from Sil-ipon, Libona, Bukidnon were among those thirteen (13) arrested by Philippine National Police (Libona, Bukidnon) in one of its operations.”
The statement was signed by Bishops Right Reverends Raul Amorcillo, Rudy Juiada, Antonio Ablon and Felixberto Calang.
“However, since they were minors, they were eventually released and turned-over to DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development-Libona. The DSWD-Libona, on the other hand, left the said minors to the care of their closest relative (Anlagan Family),” said the bishops.
The IFI bishops said on April 11 “responding to the request of the Anlagan family, and witnessed by one media practitioner, a team of IFI Priests accepted custody of above-said Higaonon minors as part of its “Sanctuary” program.”
The bishops said the guardians’ decision “was prompted by continued harassment by military agents against their family and the economic burden of taking care of five children.”
“On April 12, 2015, Sunday, accordingly upon pressuring by the military, the DSWD-Libona personnel, accompanied by PNP-Libona, came rushing to IFI Cagayan de Oro Cathedral (Pabayo-Pacana Sts.), as if in pursuit of criminals, looking for Fr. Abejo and the five Higaonon minors,” said the bishops.
The statement said that “earlier that day, PNP personnels were already looking for Fr. Abejo in Malitbog and San Luis, Bukidnon, in connection with abduction incidents.”
Amorcillo said the parents’ of the two minors said they will not anymore press charges and instead asked them for help in locating their children and that “it is the DSWD who have been pressuring them to file charges.”
Meanwhile, the bishops urged the Army, whom they identified in the statement as troops belonging to the Army’s 1st Special Forces Battalion under the 4th Infantry Division, “not to maliciously stain the image of the church whose role is to protect the helpless, defenseless and weak especially children.”
However, the bishops said that this “has become the usual pattern when organized community and Lumad folks uphold their rights to defend their ancestral domain against encroachment of large-scale mining, agri-business plantations and many other forms of development aggression.”
Amorcillo said the whole community of the Anlagans is “under pressure from the Army who is now conducting its community organizing for peace and development projects in the area.”
“Apparently, their COPD is only for the development of those who have interests in the community,” he said.
Montecillo said “an agribusiness company and a Chinese businessman exporting vegetables are renting the resident’s lots for P1,000 per hectare per year and they (residents) have become tenants (suholan) while waiting for the rent.”
“The Army (seems to be protecting these interests) while hunting down communists but the residents are the ones receiving the pressure as they are now being prevented by rentees to till their own land,” said Amorcillo.
Amorcillo said Fr. Abejo “is worried but is okay.”
Amorcillo called on IFI parishioner to “continue its mission of giving sanctuary to those who need help and to call to oppose the militarization of the countrysides which threaten the lives of the people.”
“If they (Army) really want development they should let the lumads who own the land till it without fearing for the lives,” he said.
Meanwhile, the bishops calls for the provincial and national government agencies and for the DSWD and PNP to “explain their malicious acts and to commit not to do the same in the future as it hampers the right (mission-mandate) of the church to serve persons who are under threat or simply seeking help.”
They call for the military “to stop harassing persons and communities and to end its alleged deceitful influence, if not manipulation of other government agencies, to advance their anti-insurgency campaign – Oplan (operation plan) Bayanihan.”
They also call on rights advocates, civil society groups, including the media, “to conduct independent investigation on the issue of human rights violations perpetrated by military personnel and the possible collusion of local government agencies and business corporations in the said areas.”(davaotoday.com)