DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The delegation of the National Solidarity Mission headed by former Bayan Muna Partylist Representative Saturnino Ocampo and Act Teachers PartyList Representative France Castro remains in detention as 19 of them were charged with kidnapping and trafficking.

It was the evening of November 28 when the police in Talaingod and soldiers of the 56th Infantry Battalion held the 74-members of the mission, including church people and the academe, brought them to Talaingod Police Station and detained them overnight without charges. This incident happened after the mission went to the Davao del Norte provincial government to seek assistance but decided to fetch Salugpongan teachers and students who walked for more than three hours with no dinner and feeling traumatized, from Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTICLCI) school campus in Sityo Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod Davao del Norte.

Aside from Castro, Ocampo and Nolasco, detained were Pastor Edgar Ugal, Reverends Ryan Magpayo and Jurie Jaime of the UCCP Davao, and Pastor Eller Ordeza of the United Methodist Davao; Jesus Modamo and Maryro Poquita, staff members of the ACT Teachers’ Party List; and Salugpongan Community Learning Center teachers Maria Concepcion Ibarra, Jenevive Paraba, Nerhaya Talledo, Maricel Andagkit, Marcial Rendon, Ariel Ansan, Mariane Aga, Nerfa Awing and Wingwing Dansay.

Meggy Nolasco, executive director of Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTICLCI) told Davao Today that students and teachers STTICLCI fled for their safety on November 28 after the forced closure of their campus by the paramilitary Alamara.

Prior to the arrest, vehicles of the delegation were shot twice, their tires went flat after with metal spikes and a rock was thrown, cracking the windshield of one of the vehicles. Police also put up a roadblock .

“We were also threatened by Alamara members who arrived minutes after we after we were held in a checkpoint forcing us to go to the police station for questioning”, Nolasco added.

Staying overnight at the police station, Nolasco said the police “cannot present the violations they have committed but forced them in detention” told them to wait to get personal details.

Afternoon of November 29, 19 members of the mission including former Rep. Ocampo and Rep. Castro undergone a medical check-up at Kapalong District Hospital and were brought to Hall of Justice in Tagum city for the inquest proceedings for cases allegedly violating the RA 10364 in to RA 7610 and kidnapping and failure to return a minor filed by Talaingod Municipal Police Station, represented by its police chief, Sr. Insp. Rogaciano Gara

A bail bond of P80,000 each was recommended by Provincial Prosecutor Norman Solis in his Inquest Resolution issued on the evening of November 29, stating that “there is probable cause to indict respondents for violation of RA 7610, Article VI, Section 10a” base on the evidence presented by the complainant “for bringing the children without the consent of the parents.”

But Nolasco noted that “bringing the consent with them in an emergency situation is not their priority” since their primary goal was to secure the students and ensure the welfare of the teachers during the evacuation.

“The authorities have forgotten that the main issue here is the rescue of students and teachers who are endangered due to the constant harassment of the Alamara in the community backed by the military”.

Rep. Castro and other three members of National Solidarity Mission are currently detained at Tagum City Jail while other female members of NSM were brought to Kapalong Municipal Police Station. Ocampo and other male members were detained at Talaingod Police Station.

Threat and Harassment

Nolasco said that starting October 2018, Alamara and 56th IB soldiers were forcing the closure of the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTICLCI) “making various forms of harassment” to school teachers and students.

“We have been asking the Department of Education, local government units both provincial and municipal to intervene in our problem but to no avail. Instead, our teachers and students are now forced to leave the school compound for safety” said Nolasco.

Since 2014, the Manobo’s of Talaingod were constantly evacuating from their community as they were subject to harassment says Pasaka Lumad Confederation in Southern Mindanao.

It can be recalled that in April 2014 about 309 families from the remote IP communities of Talaingod evacuated to Davao City and another 170 Lumad from Talaingod fled in 2016 to the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City as they continue to fear for their safety as threats from the Alamara paramilitary group persist. The Lumad believe the Alamara is backed by the military.

In September 2017, a Grade 7 student named Obello Bay-ao of the Salugpungan school was shot by two paramilitiamen identified with Alamara which were being recruited to the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) in Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

Bay-ao also joined the massive evacuation of Lumad in 2014, 2015 and January 2016 when an alleged militiaman killed grade 3 student Alibando Tingkas in Sitio Pongpong in Barangay Palma Gil

Strong Condemnation

Various groups and organizations have released their statements of support for the group.

Former Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo called the act as “obviously another form of persecution of human rights defenders and Lumad advocates and teachers of the Lumad schools”.

Makabayan Bloc of the House of Representatives condemned the arrest “in strongest possible terms”.“All these are the complete opposite to the objectives of the NSM team to give relief to the students and teachers who are victimized by the threats, harassments and the eventual forcible closure of their schools by the paramilitary group Alamara under the 56th IB. On the contrary, these state forces are the ones who should be charged and tried in court for their criminal acts against the communities in Talaingod. The trumped up charges filed against the members of the NSM team were clearly fabricated to indefinitely detain them.”

Act Teachers Partylist Representative Antonio Tinio is his separate statement that “instead of going after the attackers, the police brought the mission participants to the Talaingod police station, where they are being held up to now. Trumped up charges of human trafficking and child abuse are being prepared against them. The solidarity mission was conducted to give support to students and teachers of lumad schools in Talaingod, who have been the target of harassment by military and paramilitary forces for weeks. This shows how, under the martial law regime in Mindanao, the basic rights of the most marginalized are denied them while the interventions of human rights defenders are criminalized.”

Various groups now call for the immediate release of Rep. Castro, Ka Satur Ocampo, and the other human rights defenders detained in Talaingod. (davaotoday.com)

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