According to their lawyer, there was no preliminary investigation conducted. The accused also did not receive a copy of the subpoena, affidavits of the complainants and other pertinent documents about the case.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Davao Regional Trial Court issued a warrant of arrest against six administrators of United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Haran, Davao del Norte for charges of child abuse.
On April 27, elements of Davao police came to the office of the UCCP Southern Mindanao District Conference and Brokenshire College looking for UCCP Southeast Mindanao Jurisdiction Area Bishop Hamuel Tequis, Rev. Daniel Palicte, Ephraim Malazarte, social workers Lindy Trenilla, Grace Avila, and Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organization Secretary General Christony Jun Monzon. They have been charged with violation of Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Arvin Dexter Lopoz, lawyer of the accused and spokesperson of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), said that there was no preliminary investigation conducted. The accused he said, did not receive a copy of the subpoena, affidavits of the complainants and other pertinent documents about the case.
Lopoz said that on Jan. 20, the City Prosecutor’s Office of Davao City already had a resolution indicting them. They filed a motion to recall the arrest warrant and asked that a preliminary investigation be conducted and to hold in abeyance the filing of any criminal information against them.
“But it was not granted. Since this is Davao City, we already anticipated that so we also filed a motion to reduce the bail which is granted,” Lopoz told Bulatlat.
On Thusday, April 29, Tequis, Palicte, Malazarte, Trenilla and Avila were able to post bail on the said case.
Lopoz said the filing of cases against the UCCP administrators is plain harassment against those who support the Lumad children’s education.
Earlier, the Anti-Money Laundering Council ordered the freezing of the UCCP Haran’s bank accounts and real property under the name of Brokenshire Integrated Health Ministries, Inc. due to allegations of “assets used to finance terrorism” – violation of the Republic Act 10168 or Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act.
Aside from the child abuse cases, Tequis and five others were also slapped with violation of the Civil Registry Law, violation of RA 11332 or Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act and violation of the sanitation code.
The child abuse cases, according to Lopoz, stemmed from the death of infants in the UCCP Haran evacuation center. He said there were infants who died because their parents had difficulty seeking consultation with doctors due to the strict community quarantine protocols imposed in the area.
Lopoz added that since the pandemic, donations hardly reached the Lumad sanctuary that also affected the condition of the evacuees.
The violation of the Civil Registry Law, on the other hand, is for failure to secure death certificates of the infants who died.
For these three other cases, Lopoz said the Municipal Trial Court and Cities (MTCC) judge ordered the prosecution to comment first and did not issue arrest warrants against the six.
Harassment against supporters of the Lumad
The UCCP-Haran complex has been the Lumad’s sanctuary for years since the militarization of their communities in Davao del Norte. However, the attacks against the Lumad have not stopped. There were several instances of harassment of Lumad inside their sanctuary and attempts to forcibly close the evacuation center.
In January last year, the Regional Peace and Order Council 11 (RPOC-11) issued a resolution which seeks to close down the sanctuary. Tequis among other supporters stood up against the resolution.
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) also filed human trafficking charges against the UCCP board members, including Tequis, and many others last year, said Lopoz. The case was eventually dismissed.
“This red-taggers are filing charges against the wrong people,” said Lopoz.
In fact, Lopoz said this is the third trumped-up charge filed against Trenilla. There are two other charges against her, one of which is a criminal charge filed in Tagum City. Both cases were dismissed for lack of evidence.
“Supposedly Trenilla was included in the murder case which involved combatants, but they were able to establish that the she really is a social worker and working for the UCCP and that she’s been here all along,” Lopoz said.
Both Trenilla and Avila are now currently working for Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous Peoples and Peasants (SAGIPP).
Monzon is also one of the co-accused in the attempted murder charge filed by a soldier last year. Among his co-accused are Karapatan’s National Chairperson Elisa Lubi and Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region Secretary General Jayvee “Jay” Apiag.
In a statement, Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) expressed solidarity with Tequis and others. They decried the weaponization of law against the church workers and leaders and the red-tagging of the Lumad sanctuary.
PCPR pointed out that UCCP-Haran ministry “with displaced Lumad has been an effort to care for the ‘least of these’ among our fellow Filipino brothers and sisters, as an expression of Christian faith”.
“By shifting our lens to peace-building and upholding the civil liberties and human rights of the Lumad, we can instead seek to address the roots of armed conflict in the countryside. This is a more viable course of action, so that the displaced Lumad who sought sanctuary at the UCCP-Haran would be able to return to their ancestral lands,” the group said in a statement.