Screen capture from Margarita Valle's facebook account.

Screen capture from Margarita Valle’s facebook account.

DAVAO CITY – A columnist for a local newspaper, whose son is among those charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention of tribal residents inside a church compound here, appealed to her colleagues in the press to help out in setting the records straight that those accused are not kidnappers.

“I would just like to make an appeal especially to my media friends. You know who these people are, we know what they are. They are plain human rights defenders, they are advocates,” said Sunstar Davao columnist Margarita Valle, whose son Rius is among the 15 activists who the court orders to be arrested.

Rius is working with the Children’s Rehabilitation  Center and the spokesperson of Save Our Schools campaign.

Those charged include activists Hanimay Suazo of Karapatan Southern Mindanao, Reverend Jurie Jaime of Exodus for Justice and Peace, Ryan Lariba of Bayan-Far South Mindanao, Tony Salubre of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Jimboy Marciano of Samahan ng mga Manggagawang Kontraktwal, Mary Ann Sapar of Gabriela, Jojo Encosio, Pedro Arnado of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Kerlan Fanagel of Pasaka Confederation of Lumad, Sr. Stella Matutina of Panalipdan Mindanao, Sr. Restita Miles, Isidro Indao of Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Kitaotao, Kharlo Manano of Salinlahi Alliance of Children’s  Concerns, and other John Does.

The warrant of arrest was issued by Judge Retrina E. Fuentes of Regional Trial Court Branch 10 for the charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention and violation of and a violation of the Anti-trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 Lumad evacuees who are staying at a church compound here since April last year.

“They are not criminals. So maybe we can help, we can help in putting the issues in order,” said Valle.

On Thursday, July 14, Valle posted a photo of her son in two press conferences together with some Lumad evacuees on her Facebook account.

On her post, she wrote: “Are these the Lumads that Catamco claim my son has “kidnapped”? pagxure oi… the second photo show Rius Valle with the Lumads in a press conference at SM Ecoland. Ganito na pala ang kidnapping ngayon, pinangalandakan pa ng supposed kidnapper ang nakidnap nya, sa presscon pah! jus koh!”

(Are these the Lumads that Representative Nancy Catamco claim my son has kidnapped? Are you sure? So this is how you kidnap nowadays, the supposed kidnapper appears in a press conference with his victims. My God!)

Catamco, who chairs the House committee on the indigenous peoples, figured during the evacuation of the Lumads in Haran after she attempted to “rescue” the evacuees whom she said were held by the progressive groups.

Tribal leaders backed activists

Lumad leaders, who are still staying in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran compound, have backed the innocence of the activists and said that they were not forced by the groups to leave their communities.

Former Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said the case was filed on May 12, 2015 “by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and some people from the military.”

In the document, the case was filed by members of the Matigsalug-Manobo tribe of Sitio Inayaman, Barangay San Jose, San Fernando Bukidnon namely Datu Kalumpot Dalon, Datu Larie Landahay, Libara Angkomog, Toto Angkomog, Juvnie Angkomog, Limar Mangomoy-at and Tata Angkomog-Lundia.

‘Malicious, treacherous’ charges

Ilagan said they see the case as “malicious, treacherous and illegal”.

“It was issued two days before the oath-taking of the president. This is an example of a midnight issuance, where the outgoing Aquino administration issues documents, motions for record and yet they are already outgoing,” Ilagan said.

“Why will they issue those kind of motions, when they are about to leave their offices,” Ilagan said.

Ilagan also questioned why the photos of the accused were already posted in wanted posters along the streets of Davao.

But she said “what is clear is the common denominator of the accused is that they have helped the evacuees in Haran.”

“Can you imagine 15 people kidnapping almost 800 evacuees?” Ilagan said.

In a statement released by the families and supporters of what is now called as the “15 Haran Human Rights Defenders”, they said the issuance of the warrant of arrest “was done in a dubious manner such that it reeks of foul intent to ensnare the human rights defenders and prevent them from doing their humanitarian works, especially now that the certainty for the Lumads to go back to their communities is high and almost sure with President Duterte’s ascent to power.”

The groups said the warrant was only made known to the accused on June 28, a day which coincided with a “peace rally” to express support for the Duterte administration.

Prosecutor Mark Melchor Velasco of the Provincial Prosecutor Office of Davao Occidental said the case was first filed before the City Prosecutors Office in Davao City. The case filed was dismissed by the investigating prosecutor.

Velasco, in a press conference on Wednesday, July 13 said the case was filed again before the Department of Justice Central Office, which resolved the motion for reconsideration and found probable cause for the crime of kidnapping against the accused.

“What the DOJ did was it filed the case directly to the Regional Trial Court, after it was raffled off, Branch 10 got the case,” Velasco said.

The lawyers of the 15 activists have filed a motion for reconsideration on June 28.

However, Velasco said, “unless the court rules to hold in abeyance the execution of the warrant of arrest,” the warrant stands effective.

Groups appeal to Sara, Pres. Duterte

The groups also appealed to City Mayor Sara Duterte and to President Rodrigo Duterte to help them in the case.

“We call on our dear Mayor Sara Duterte to help us do something and not let the accusers get the better of Justice because they are destroying the very fabric of democracy in our land,” it said in the statement.

“We call on our beloved President Rody Duterte, who have been in the struggle of the evacuees since time during his term as Mayor of our City, and many times did he worked with the human rights defenders to address this rooted problem, as well as he knew every one of them as they consistently do their work for justice and peace,” it added. (

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