DAVAO CITY – Leaders of lumad (indigenous people) evacuees from Davao del Norte province appeal to authorities that they be allowed to protest for their rights after support groups assisting them were charged with violations of  Republic Act (RA) 267 or Kidnapping, Serious Illegal Detention and Anti-trafficking in persons Act.

Datu (tribal leader) Kaylo Bontulan, representative of Salugpungan Ta Ta’Tanu Igkanugon (Unite to Save the Ancestral Land) said, “we have learned a lot in our 20 years of struggle to not know what we are doing.”

“What do they think of us lumads, that we are incapable of finding ways to liberate ourselves from our predicaments?” said Bontulan.

He said “it is our right to protest what we think is bad for us. It is our right leave our homes because we are in constant danger of military men who accuse us of being rebels.”

Bontulan, who appeared agitated while answering questions in a press conference on Thursday, raised his voice as he said, “those who accuse must know first the context of our bakwit (mass evacuation).”

He said “bakwit is our highest political statement to put forward our concerns.”

During the press conference, Sheena Duazo of militant group Bayan Southern Mindanao said a complaint was filed against her and other individuals who supported Salugpungan’s evacuees.

Duazo showed Davao Today of their notes on the details of the case.

She said the complaint against them is under docket number XI-02-INV-15-E-1848 filed before the City Prosecutor’s Office.

Included in the complaint are Rev. Jurie Jaime, Sheena Duazo, Hanimay Suazo, Ryan Lariba, Tony Salubre, Jimong Marciano, Mary Ann Sapar, Jaja Necosia, Pedro Arnaldo, Kerlan Fanagel, Sr. Stella Matutina, Sr. Restita Miles, Isidro Andao, Kharlo Manano, Riuz Valle and many John Does.

The charge against Duazo and the other individuals are violation of Republic Act (RA) 267 or Kidnapping, Serious Illegal Detention and RA 9208 or the Anti-trafficking in persons Act of 2003 as amended by RA 10364 or the Expanded Anti-trafficking of Persons Act of 2012.

Duazo said the complainant is the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and that the address indicated is the Haran House of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), where the Lumads sought refuge.

Bontulan denied the allegations and said “we were not forced to go here, nor are we being held against our will by these people who we consider as our support groups.”

“Twenty years ago, it was Haran who took us when we left our homes because our leader chose to fight against a logging company. We are not new to this,” he said.

The lumads occupy the vacant lot of the Haran compound. From the compound’s main gate, the leaders put-up another gate leading to the more or less 5-meter wide and 20-meter long unpaved strip of land.

The lumads live in raised platform bamboo beds covered with trapal (durable tarpaulins usually used in agriculture), arranged in such a way that a walk path is created at the center.

Trees and thick vegetation on the left side and the end of the array of houses make them feel like they are “home”, said Salugpungan spokesperson Datu Doloman Dawsay.

Lumads collectively take care of free-range chickens that roam about with their loyal hunting dogs.

During their evacuation in 1994, UCCP leaders and Salugpungan made a pact of friendship, the product was a historical marker erected at the base of a mango trunk inside the Haran compound.

A conference room was later erected beside the now productive mango tree. The UCCP leadership named the conference room “Salugpungan Hall.”

Bontulan said tribal leader have come-up with a set of “rules” inside the Haran compound “to protect the children from getting outside and get hit by passing cars and from individuals who want to take advantage of our situation.”

“If you think of it, the support groups, these individuals even cook our food for us. How can it be that we are aggrieved,” said Bontulan.

Bishop Hamuel Tequis, bishop of UCCP Southeastern Mindanao Jurisdiction, however said “we feel that we have not given them our best.”

“They left their comfortable homes, and we the church, should have given them at least what is similar to a real house but they still live in tent makeshifts. We pray we can give more,” he said.(davaotoday.com)

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