Since the UCCP opened its doors to the distraught members of the indigenous peoples community, the protestant church and its volunteers have been experiencing a series of harassment.
By RITCHE T. SALGADO
MANILA — Church workers who have provided sanctuary to terrorized Lumad are now under fire as they face a series of legal harassment allegedly instigated by the government anti-insurgency agency, National Task Force to End Localized Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Forty-eight church workers of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) and other advocates were charged with alleged violation of Republic Act 9208 (Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act), RA 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act), and RA 9851 (Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity) before the Davao City Prosecutor’s Office, Sept. 15.
A statement by UCCP’s Council of Bishops reiterates that the cases are part of a series of a legal build up meant to frustrate the group’s resistance against the plan of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for displaced Lumad to return to their “ancestral land.” The displaced Lumad abandoned their homes to escape the series of harassment and intense militarization in the area.
Human rights group Karapatan related that in January 2015, about 800 Ata Manobo from Davao Del Norte and Bukidnon sought refuge at the UCCP-Haran compound because of “atrocities committed by the military led by the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army headed by then General Eduardo Año and its paramilitary group Alamara.”
Karapatan said that these cases include the harassment of teachers and students of Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) Academy, the rape of a 14-year old girl by members of the Philippine Army, and the torture of five residents of San Fernando, Bukidnon, among others.
Since the UCCP opened its doors to the distraught members of the indigenous peoples community, the protestant church and its volunteers have been experiencing a series of harassment that includes threats by North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco who brought anti-riot policemen and paramilitary to force the evacuees to leave the compound; charges proven to be trumped-up with its subsequent dismissal; and vandalism instigated by the paramilitary Alamara who tore down the walls of the compound and burned the shelters in the compound which injured five evacuees including children.
The United Nations through UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Dr. Chaloka Beryani, however, recognized government’s hands in these series of harassment affirming the validity of the complaints of the indigenous peoples.
“The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection,”Beryani in his August 2015 end-of-mission statement.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s June 2020 report pointed out that “the emphasis on national security, intelligence-gathering and red-tagging in the execution of Executive Order No. 70, however, has hampered local civil society, including church groups, from tending to the humanitarian needs of the communities for fear of being portrayed as NPA [New People’s Army] affiliates.”
In a related development, Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, challenged former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff and now Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr. (Ret.) to allow and “to officially invite UN special rapporteurs and allow them and human rights bodies or mechanisms of the European Union to visit the UCCP – Haran center and conduct independent and impartial investigations on the plight of indigenous peoples amid the continuing government-sponsored repression and attacks against them.”
Galvez earlier called on the UN and the EU to investigate the UCCP-Haran claiming that it is “being used to solicit support from international donors and ‘a propaganda of insurgents abroad.'”
As if to respond to Karapatan’s call, the UNHRC passed a resolution on October 7 for Bachelet and her office “to provide technical assistance and capacity building” in promoting and protecting human rights in the country.
Palabay, however, cautioned that although the resolution falls short in demanding accountability from the Duterte government, the measure is “a sign that the international community remains committed in closely monitoring the situation of human rights in the country.”
For this, Palabay said that the government should “allow the access of UN human rights mechanisms in the country to assess domestic accountability mechanisms if they are truly working and if they have nothing to hide” asserting that “any measure for technical assistance and capacity-building should come from a concrete assessment of the realities on the ground.”
In the meantime, while church workers and IP leaders continue to face harassment and persecution, Rev. Daniel Palicte, conference minister of the UCCP Southern Mindanao District Conference, declared that they “are unfettered in their resolute commitment to do God’s compassionate mission for and among the indigenous people in Mindanao and the entire country.”