DAVAO CITY (Updated July 26, 12:46AM) – The United Church of Christ in the Philippines criticized a police assault on its compound here on Friday and described it as “disrespectful” of the sanctity of the Church.
Bishop Hamuel Tequis, head of the UCCP’s Southeast Mindanao Jurisdictional Area, told reporters here that local religious leaders were surprised with the police assault, coming a day after leaders of tribal evacuees in the compound spurned the offer of North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco for a free ride back to their home villages in Davao del Norte.
He said he also did not expect the policemen to storm their Haran compound which they call a peace sanctuary.
Police, along with a paramilitary group recruited from the tribal communities and soldiers attempted to storm into the compound purportedly “to rescue” the Ata-Manobo tribal families holed up inside the sprawling wooded Haran compound since summer.
“I realized that they ruined the image of the church. They disrespected it,” an emotional Bishop Tequis told reporters.
Reverend Jerome Baris said he came to the Haran compound at 7:00 am Thursday to facilitate an ongoing paralegal training workshop of the UCCP, when he saw a throng of people, policemen and government personnel at the church’s premises.
There was a negotiation that followed shortly among officials from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples, tribal leaders and barangay officials.
At the living room of the mission center inside the compound, Baris said he was told by government representatives including Pedrita Dimakiling, head of the community-based service unit of the DSWD, that “they want to get the lumads from the evacuation center as a maximum objective, and as a minimum objective to get the sickly children and mothers to provide them with proper medical attention at the DSWD regional office.”
Baris said UCCP leaders consulted with the tribal leaders who refused the offer, pointing at the still unresolved demand to stop the Army from harassing them in their communities.
Baris said they relayed the decision of the tribal leaders but asked the DSWD to go on providing the services that the evacuees needed.
Baris said the dialogue bogged down, but he said he was shocked to hear that a commotion between the police and the evacuees have already started.
While he helped negotiated with the police to stop forcibly entering the premises of Haran, he said two plainclothesmen pulled him aside, tore his polo. His reading glasses were also lost.
Senior Inspector Milgrace Driz, spokesperson of DCPO said violence would have been prevented if the police were only permitted to enter the Haran compound.
“We only want to give service to them, that is part of our job,” Driz said adding that the DSWD requested their assistance.
Driz said there were about 500 policemen on that Thursday incident. She said the DCPO deployed around 300 policemen and backed by about 200 more from the Civil Disturbance Management Unit under the Regional Public Safety Battalion of the regional office.
Driz said it was a joint effort “because those involved were not from Davao City”. She said more than 700 indigenous people from Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and some parts of Bukidnon provinces
sought refuge in the Haran Mission Center last April.
Tequis said the UCCP church aims to assist the “poor and the marginalized like the Ata-Manobos.”
“Our fellow Ata Manobos sought help and refuge in our church since 1995, the first of a series of internal displacement due to militarization that happened. Providing them sanctuary in our peace haven is a duty we embrace arising from our own Declaration of Principles,” the UCCP said.
The UCCP is one of the ten Protestant churches under the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
“But what they did (last Thursday)was they showed a picture of how they violate human rights,” Tequis said.
“What they did to the Ata-Manobos was they violated their right to live peacefully,” he said.
Tequis also refuted the claims of Catamco who said that they were padlocking the IPs inside the compound.
“The cases of attempted murder, trafficking, kidnaping, Violence Against Women and Children – are those the handiwork of someone who serves God? Those accusations show no respect and no recognition of the sanctity of a life lived in service to God,” Tequis said.
“We are outraged at this show of excessive force, moreso because the PNP did not have any warrant to enter and search the Church facility, which is a private property,” the UCCP.
The UCCP said they are considering to file charges against Col. Mervin Pepino, officer-in-charge (OIC) city director who was the deputized ground commander during the incident which they said was illegal.
However, Driz said they are only acting on a complaint they receive.
“They (DSWD) requested our assistance to go with them to Haran and carry out the rescue. We don’t have search warrant or warrant of arrest. We were not there to search, we were there to rescue,” Driz told Davao Today.
She said if there will be cases filed against them, they will answer it. Driz also said that they will also file charges against those who they identified as the one who hurt their police officers.
Fifteen persons, most of whom came from the evacuees and support groups were reportedly injured during the incident. Two members of the Investigation and Detection Management Branch also sustained injuries.
But Tequis said “if they can do that to us, they can do that to the common people.” (with reports from Dyanarha Lavadia and Lora Bargamento, Davao Today Interns)