DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The compound of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP)- Haran was locked down as tensions arose when men armed with bolos forced their way inside on Saturday morning, January 25.
Datu Tangig Masimuy-at, Lumad leader from Talaingod town, identified the men as Lumad and members of indigenous paramilitary group Alamara. He added that they were accompanied by 60 men wearing civilian clothes but believed to be state agents.
Mansimuy-at said the men armed with bolos tore down the fences of the evacuation camp at around 9:00 am, prompting around 500 Lumad evacuees to vacate their temporary shelters and seek refuge in the main building of UCCP Haran, located on the other side of the compound.
“They destroyed the fence and gate and forced their way inside the camp with bolos. This has caused trauma to our children,” said Mansimuy-at.
Around 150 police and traffic enforcers arrived in the area at around 10:00 am after receiving a report.
Davao City Police Director Col. Kirby John Brion Kraft said that police presence is aimed at maintaining order amidst the tension between Lumad groups.
Kraft added that the bolo-wielding Lumad went to the compound to urge their fellow Lumad who are evacuees to return home.
Mansimuy-at, however, said that Lumad evacuees refuse to go home until their safety is guaranteed.
“We feel safer here in the evacuation center unlike back home. In the hinterlands, we are vulnerable to, and can be easily killed by, the Alamara,” Mansimuy-at added.
Today’s incident happened a week after the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) Region 11 passed a resolution which seeks to close the UCCP Haran Center.
The UCCP-Haran provides a sanctuary to Lumad from the provinces of Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro, Bukidnon and North Cotabato who are fleeing their homes due to massive militarization in their communities.
In September 2017, 19-year old Salugpungan student Obello Bay-ao was killed by members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit or CAFGU and Alamara in the community of Sitio Dulyan in Talaingod town. The suspects remain at large.
Mansimuy-at said the RPOC-11 resolution is only aimed at justifying attacks against the evacuation center and the Lumad taking shelter there.
Since 10:00 am Saturday, people have been barred by the police from entering and leaving the compound. Members of the media were prohibited to go near the UCCP Haran main gate.
In a phone interview, Bishop Hamuel Tequis of the UCCP Southeastern Mindanao Jurisdiction Area dismissed the claims that support groups including the church are preventing the evacuees to leave.
“Those who want to go home can go home. While those want to stay can stay. That has been our stand ever since,” Tequis added.
Mansimuy-at said he and fellow Lumad evacuees have stayed in the evacuation center on their own volition.
“We will stay until our safety in our communities is guaranteed. We continue to demand for the pull-out of the military from our communities and the disbanding and disarming of the Alamara,” he added.(davaotoday.com)