Davao Today

PATIN-AY, Agusan del Sur — Two Agusan del Sur minors who were accused and detained of purportedly taking part in the killing of a barangay captain were released from a youth facility here Wednesday. Their mothers, however, wanted justice to grind on the militia men and Army personnel who allegedly tortured their sons.

Inocencia Tolentino and Estrella Basilisco, mothers of the minors, said they would not allow the militia men and military men who allegedly tortured their son to get away with it.

“Naghangyo gyud mi sa mga mitabang sa amoa nga matabangan mi makabalos og kaso aron ikapahamtang pud namo sa ila ang ilang gibuhat sa among anak, ilang gipasakitan nga murag hayop (We request those who helped us in our ordeal that they help us too in letting them feel what they did to our sons,” Tolentino said.

The National Democratic Front Southern Mindanao hailed the release of the two minors in a recent press statement after four months of detention saying that “Due to the people’s clamor in Agusan, the GPH court was forced to release the two minors … based on the merits of the case and because of the sheer idiocy of the charges filed against them.”

Tolentino’s 16-year-old son, and Basilisco’s 17-year-old son, both cousins, were picked up on July 22 this year while on their way to the town center of Loreto, Agusan del Sur to register with the Commission on Election for the Sangguniang Kabataan (village youth officials) elections.

Basilisco’s son said he, Tolentino’s son, and two other cousins Ronald Sanglid, 19, and Rico Basilisco, 18, were riding on his motorcycle from their village of Barangay Sabud when government militia men, locally known as “baganis”, stopped them in the middle of the road.

Read: “Kill them, they are NPAs!” Lumad torture victim recounts ordeal

“From the truck they shouted that we stop, so I stopped on the side of the road and shut my motorcycle off. They arrested us immediately,” he said.

He said the children of Kauswagan Barangay Captain Rarmon Diagonon pointed to them as part of the group who killed their father. The military reported that Diaganon was killed by the NPAs on July 19, three days before the four cousins were arrested.

The cousins told their parents and their counsel later that they were tortured in two successions, but by different units. First were the baganis and the second were soldiers of the Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion.

“We were kicked and punched by the bagani in the dump truck while we were travelling. But worse happened when were turned over to the 26th IB. They wrapped our heads with cellophane until we cannot breathe, forcing us to admit that we are NPAs,” said Basilisco’s son.

“They (bagani) also took our motorcycle, our means of living when they arrested my son. While he was away no one was left to tend to the farm. Angay gyud sila silotan [They ought to be punished],” Basilisco said.

Relatives in poblacion Sabud were able to intercede for Sanglid and Rico Basilisco and were released hours after their arrest. The other two minors were detained.

The Children’s advocate Children’s Rehabilitation Center said they would assist the family should they file a legal case.

Karapatan, a human rights group also supporting the children, said they would still confer with their lawyers on the next step.

In a mobile phone interview, Captain Alberto C. Caber, chief of the Public Information Office of the Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao Command said they would support any investigation into the incident but added that they still have to get the information on the case of the minors.

“If there is plan to file a complaint against our soldiers, we will support any investigation on the matter. These things are not new. Gen. (Rainier) Cruz, the commanding officer of the EastMinCom will not permit that an investigation will not happen. If our soldiers, we have to investigate in order for us to know if they are at fault,” said Caber.

The two minors were released on November 13 from the Caraga Regional Rehabilitation for Children and Youth (RRCY).

The families of the detained minors, including human rights and child rights organizations, said the release was not that easy. They said they were disappointed when told that the facility follows a certain “protocol” which, they thought would not allow them to bring their children out soon.

They were told that they would release the minors only through social welfare officer or social worker from the Davao City Social Services and Development Office, which the families asked to help them.

“The RRCY is supposed to be a rehabilitation center for children in conflict with the law whose cases are already in court or those who are already convicted. But, these boys’ case has not yet been elevated to the court, in fact it was dismissed by the prosecutor,” said Karapatan spokesperson Rev. Jurie Jaime.

“Since they are minors, the boys cannot be detained in jail, thus the supposed role of the RRCY is only for safekeeping,” Jaime said.

So it seems na ang government mismo ug ang balaod para sa protection sa mga bata, particulalry ang RA 9344, dili pa pino sa actual implementasyon sa programs ug uban pa (So it seems that the even the government and law protecting children, particularly the RA 9344 is not yet fine-tuned in terms of actual implementation, programs, etc),” said Jaime.

The boys were released later after the Davao City CSSDO called to request the RRCY in-charge to instead deliver them to Davao.

Estrella expressed joy that her son was now with them.

“We worry for him each day for four months. We thank the organizations which helped us,” she said.

Loreto town has been one of the areas ravaged by Typhoon Pablo, but human rights organizations like Karapatan said that the Agusan tribal Manobos and other residents suffered far worse as “they evacuated again for fear of getting trapped in the middle of intensifying military operations”.

The local farmers’ group, Kasaka, suspected that the frequent military operations were intended to clear the area for the entry of a British palm-oil plantation and mining operations. Two of their members were killed by still unknown gunmen, but Kasaka blamed the local militias for the killings.

In the course of such military operations, Kasaka members and other residents have complained of abuses from Army personnel.

The residents of inner barangays like Sabud left their communities and stayed at the Kauswagan Elementary School in Barangay Kauswagan, a village plying the Compostela Valley and Loreto highway.

They left Kauswagan after that to protest before the office of Gov. Adolph Edward Plaza over alleged abuses. Nothing came out of their demand to pull out the Army.

Read: Agusan Manobos hurt by police in evacuation camp

From there, they went to Davao City to seek “sanctuary.” In August, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte facilitated a dialogue between them, Loreto Mayor Dario Otasa and the Eastern Mindanao Command in which they were assured of their safety upon returning home.

Read: Agusan Manobos now in Davao City

Duterte also gave the evacuees food, seeds and farm materials.

Sa pagbalik namo, naa man nuoy daghan gipatay. Namakwit napud tawon mi. Nasayang lang ang mga binhi ug katong mga himan kay nabiyaan namo tungod sa kakulba (When we returned home, many were killed. We evacuated again. We left the seeds and farm tools because were very afraid),” Basilisco said.

Read: Peasant leader’s death in Agusan raises new fears, Second farmer leader killed in Agusan del Sur

She said said they could not go back to their place anymore to live “normal” lives.

For Tolentino, the threat was very “real.”

“When we were there, the Cafgus (paramilitary) were firing their guns in the air just outside of our house. The kids cry because of fear,” she said.

Basilisco said that aside from the case they plan to file against military who have “tortured” their son, what they really want is that military forces would be “pulled-out” from their home.

“Wala may samok dira sa among lugar katong wala pa na sila, di nami ka-uma, (There were no trouble here before they arrive, now we can’t even go to our farms,” she said.

For Tolentino’s son, who gained weight, said they made their time “productive” while inside the RRCY.

“They teach us there. We have no problems at all and we get to learn. It is not the same when you are out here, faced with reality that you have to struggle with poverty which makes going to school harder,” he said adding that he opts to be with his family no matter how hard life is.

Basilisco’s son, however, said he is sad on leaving the other youths in the facility that he describes as also “victims.”

Tinuod daghan man sa ila didto naa gyud mga sala, pero naa puy pipila nga nga mi-angkon nalang tungod kay gikulata daw sa pulis, meske katong nisurender na gani gikulata pa (While it is true that many of them really committed crime, there are several who were beaten to force them to admit it, even those who surrendered were also beaten),” he said.

The boys went-around the facility before finally leaving. They left some clothes, got some small mementos in return, and waved their goodbyes hoping to see each other again, outside.

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