DAVAO CITY, Philippines – “They were forced to hold a piece of paper which bore their names, age, and address, while soldiers took pictures of them and forced them to sign a document without explaining what was written on it.”
As narrated by Jay Apiag, secretary-general of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, on behalf of the two Lumad minors who were held by the military in Barangay Sinuda, Kitaotao town in Bukidnon province last month.
Based on the narratives reported by Karapatan, Rina, 11, and her cousin Ellah, 17, (real names withheld) were about to gather Rattan locally known as Uway or Agsam and Bocawe, a local variety of Bamboo, in the morning of February 18 when they were accosted by seven soldiers.
The group identified the soldiers under the Army’s 88th Infantry Battalion.
“They were later grimly interrogated and accused of having been directed by the New People’s Army (NPA) to trace the military’s whereabouts,” said Apiag.
The two repeatedly denied the soldiers’ accusation, saying they were only gathering materials to make indigenous accessories and pleaded to leave for they still have classes the next day.
The soldiers told the girls that they will be sent home when their companions arrive.
“Ellah even heard some of the armed men’s conversation that should the minors be transported on the military’s 6×6 truck, the children might shout and create commotion,” Apiag added.
They stayed in the place from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. until they left heading to a nearby sitio (village). At 10 p.m., they arrived at Cabalansihan cemetery and were told to take a nap while waiting for their companions. After an hour, a white pick-up truck arrived.
“The military then forced the minors to board the vehicle, despite the children’s refusal and pleadings,” said Apiag.
They agreed to board the vehicle when the soldiers assured that they will be sent home.
“Later, they were transferred to a military truck and brought to the unit’s camp based in Maramag town in Bukidnon at around 12:00 midnight,” Apiag continued.
The two spent the night inside the military camp.
After being served with bread and coffee without sugar for breakfast on the morning of February 19, the two were subjected to another round of interrogation.
At 9 a.m., the girls were brought to a hut, where 15 individuals who introduced themselves as Lumad and NPA surrenderees, were waiting. All took turns talking to Rina and Ellah for an hour.
They were later brought to another room inside the camp, which Ellah thought was an office.
There, they were forced to sign a document without any explanation, Apiag added.
At 2 p.m., the two were transported to a hospital for a check-up and brought back to the military camp.
According to Rina and Ellah, Apiag added, soldiers took photos as they received eight kilos of rice.
A soldier told the girls, “Ayaw mo og tug-an ha? Sorry kaayo (Please don’t tell. We’re very sorry).”
Rina and Ellah were released late in the afternoon of February 19.
Karapatan condemned the incident that they believe to be a clear case of abduction and an attack against Lumad communities in the countryside.
“This incident only proves that there is no let-up in the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ shameless exhibition of its brutal reign in lumad communities. Unquestionably infuriating, the traumatic episode exacerbates the escalating attacks against innocent civilians who frequently fall prey to Duterte’s implementation of martial law,” said Apiag.
Karapatan demands justice and for the responsible Army unit be held accountable.
Apiag also urged President Rodrigo Duterte to lift the martial law declaration in Mindanao as this “afford” state forces to commit abuses against civilians.
The Mindanao-wide human rights group, Barug Katungod, has recorded 153 cases of political killings, 59 cases of extrajudicial killings, forced evacuations affecting 488,759 individuals, 686 trumped-up cases, 1,411 fake and forced surrenderees since martial law was declared in Mindanao.
The human rights group concluded: “Under the government’s all-out war, certainly, no one is being spared. In fact, children glaringly turn out to be one of its most direct targets.” (davaotoday.com)