DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The recent attempt to take Manobo evacuees out of the church facility serving as their sanctuary as well as the immense pressure and intimidation that they face have left unshaken their firm resolve to stay.
Close to 50 members of the Alamara paramilitary group and some unidentified men whose faces were covered went to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Center on Saturday morning and destroyed fences, brandished their bolos, and threatened the Manobo evacuees.
The around 500 Manobo evacuees packed their belongings to transfer to the Bishop’s building in the UCCP Haran Center as the Alamara started to occupy their shanties, their alternative school building, as well as the evacuation center’s clinic.
The Alamara said it went to the center to “rescue” their members’ relatives and bring them home. They were backed by the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) of Region 11 which called the evacuation necessary after “years of being held captive and exploited by the Haran administrators.”
The evacuees have been staying in the evacuation center since 2015 due to the militarization of their communities by state forces fighting the armed rebel group New People’s Army (NPA).
In a statement, Gov. Nelson Dayanghirang, RPOC-XI chairperson, mentioned that what happened on Saturday morning was “the proper exercise of law and order for the protection and best interest of the marginalized hundreds of Indigenous Peoples from Davao del Norte inappropriately encamped at UCCP Haran in Davao City.”
The governor also called the action as part of “good governance”.
Rescue or threat
Back in 2015, the evacuees also faced efforts to bring them home, which were led by Cotabato Second District Representative Nancy Catamco, who then chaired the Committee on Indigenous People of the House of Representatives.
Catamco even tried to talk to Bae Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, a well-known leader of the Lumad, and promised to investigate into the Haran evacuation center in aid of her legislation for the indigenous people.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who then chaired the RPOC XI, facilitated a series of dialogues between the evacuees and the military. The Lumad leaders have already conveyed their fear of military presence in their communities as well as their opposition to attacks on their community-run schools.
Similar to the scenario five years ago, the Alamara and some unidentified men whose faces were covered tried to force their way into the evacuation center on Saturday for the same reason: “to rescue their relatives.”
The attempt again failed as the evacuees refused to return home, saying they will only go back when the the military has already been removed from the communities.
Datu Delio Malibato from Barangay Gupitan in Kapalong was one of the evacuees in 2015 who sought refuge in Haran. He was also one of the few evacuees who went back to their community, believing they will have a peaceful life.
Datu Delio and other members of Lumad families, however, were forcibly recruited as members of the Alamara, were forced to use arms against NPA, and were also forced to act like they were members of the NPA who then surrendered to the government.
“We were told that we should use guns to defend our ancestral land but even civilians were suspected of being NPAs,” the Datu said.
In the community in Gupitan, he said the military occupied the facilities of the community’s alternative school and used these as their camps, prompting the children to stop studying.
After a month of staying in their community, they decided to go back to Haran.
“We tried to plant rice and other crops to start a new life in the mountain but because of continuing harassment that we can’t bear, we were again left with no choice but to go to Haran to ensure our safety,” he added.
Stand with the church
In his statement, Dayanghirang pointed out that the UCCP’s hosting of the evacuees is a violation of indigenous people’s rights under Republic Act 8371 otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act because of the “dislocation and isolation from their ancestral domains for quite some time now.”
The UCCP-Southeast Mindanao Jurisdictional Area, however, said it is standing firm in its commitment to defend the rights of those who are deprived of their civil liberties.
“The Church strongly opposes the resolution of the RPOC,” said Bishop Hamuel Teguis, UCCP-SMJA head, in a statement.
He stressed that the UCCP Haran Center is a sanctuary of peace that has been serving the indigenous people even before the 2015 massive evacuation of Manobos living in the Pantaron range.
“UCCP Haran has for many years now been serving as a domicile for the Lumad who were forcibly displaced by violence and attacks by paramilitary and military groups. It has served as a home for victims of oppression and injustice. It has become a place of healing among them who have been distressed by intermittent harassment and violence.”
Meanwhile, many church organizations have signified their solidarity with UCCP and the Lumad in Haran. (davaotoday.com)