“I believe that this fight is not only against the Duterte administration but also a fight for a society where everyone has dignity.” — Carolina Malay, wife of Satur Ocampo
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon is alarmed by the arrest of former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and 17 other human rights defenders.
In a press conference in Quezon City this morning, Gascon said Ocampo and company went to Talaingod, Davao del Norte peacefully to provide humanitarian assistance to Lumad children fleeing from paramilitary group Alamara.
“Their intention was to look at the situation of Lumad schools and provide care to children there,” Gascon said in Filipino.
Following the forcible closure of Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning School (STTICLCI) by Philippine Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion and Alamara, 29 students and 12 teachers fled sitio Nasilaban, barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod. The students and teachers, along with members of the national humanitarian mission were blocked by the military, Talaingod police and municipal social work and development office, Nov. 28. They were brought to the police station and detained on charges of kidnapping and human trafficking. On Thursday, during the inquest proceedings, the police filed charges of child abuse against the 18, including ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and four Protestant pastors.
Gascon does not believe the accusations. “We know Ka Satur…He is an honorable man,” he said.
Gascon added that he met ACT Teachers Party Rep. France Castro when he was still undersecretary of the Department of Education. “They’re (ACT) only after the interest of not only teachers but also their children in schools.”
Ocampo’s lawyer, Rachel Pastores from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), described the charges as ludicrous and “in no way these will survive reasonable judicial and public scrutiny.”
“…[B]y apprehending the convoy of the children, their teachers and aiders, by also detaining and traumatizing the children, it was the police who endangered the life, safety, and normal development of the children,” Pastores said in a statement.
Gascon said the CHR sent a quick reaction team and they will continue to monitor the situation in Talaingod.
“We call on the government to ensure that they are all protected, that their rights as accused are respected,” Gascon said.
Even as the CHR would have yet to finish its investigation, Carolina Malay, wife of former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, revealed how authorities deprived Ocampo of his right to communicate with his family.
Malay said that while she was talking with Ocampo on Thursday, Nov. 29, the jail warden grabbed Ocampo’s cellphone. When a group of journalists tried to talk to Ocampo, Malay said, the police denied the media access to the detainees.
“That’s why in print media, all we read is the government side. The public does not know what’s going on not only with Ka Satur but also with the Lumad people who are being driven away from their communities.” Malay said in Filipino.
Edith Burgos of the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) slammed the government’s arbitrariness. “Our government is not only cruel, unjust and unreasonable and oppressive, it is also arbitrary. Walang katwiran, basta gusto nila, gagawin nila.” (They don’t listen to reason; they just do what they want to do.)
Burgos said the Army’s 56th IB who has been harassing the Lumad school in Talaingod is the same unit responsible for the abduction of her son Jonas 11 years ago. “The people who are supposed to protect us are the ones suppressing us,” Burgos said.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said this was not the first time that a solidarity mission was harassed in Mindanao. He said there had been several fact-finding missions to respond to attacks on Lumad communities since 2014.
Casilao said the Makabayan bloc filed almost a hundred resolutions in the House of Representatives seeking to investigate these incidents. During budget hearings, Casilao said, they raised the issue with Education Secretary Leonor Briones. “All these fell on deaf ears,” Casilao lamented.
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Casilao, who hailed from Mindanao said impunity has to stop. “Part of this is holding the perpetrators accountable,” he said.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said that lawyers are studying all the possible countercharges to be filed against human rights violators.
“This is already too much,” Palabay said, noting the “alarming” pattern of planting of evidence against activists and the filing of fabricated charges.
Pastores warned, “Know that the unlawful arrest of Ka Satur and his companions will not be without consequences.”
A team of lawyers led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate is now in Talaingod to respond to Talaingod 18.
Malay said, “I believe that this fight is not only against the Duterte administration but also a fight for a society where everyone has dignity.”
“We are used to fighting dictatorships and so, we can brave through this,” Malay added, smiling.