The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) is up in arms over what it perceives as harassment by an alleged paramilitary group in its evacuation center in Mindanao.
On Jan. 25, police barred members of the media from entering the UCCP’s Haran Compound where leaders of human rights groups were scheduled to hold a media briefing.
The briefing was held to clarify issues regarding an earlier standoff between evacuees and alleged members of a paramilitary group who reportedly entered the center.
Haran hosts an estimated 400 tribal people, also known as “lumad,” who sought sanctuary to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between government forces and Maoist rebels.
Leaders of the Save Our Schools Network reported that alleged members of Alamara, a paramilitary group, “attacked the sanctuary with bladed weapons and destroyed the gates.”
It added that “despite these attacks and destruction of property,” the police did not arrest the members of Alamara.
Authorities denied the allegations, saying they were deployed in the area to maintain peace and order.
They said they would look into the incident, which reportedly involved relatives of evacuees attempting to rescue their families still holed up in the compound.
Bishop Hamuel Tequis of the UCCP said they were not forcing the lumad to stay amid accusations that the Protestant Church has been holding the people against their will.
“At this time, we observe that no one wants to go home. We do not disallow them from going home,” he said.
Police also dismissed reports that the group that stormed the compound included members of the Alamara, a paramilitary group organized by the army to counter communist guerrillas.
“They are their tribal leaders who want to get their people inside the Haran,” said regional police director Brig. Gen. Filmore Escobal.
The latest incident appeared to be part of government efforts to stop tribal peoples from being influenced and recruited by communist rebels.
Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib earlier moved for the closure of the center, claiming that the tribal people were being exploited by the rebels.
Governor Nelson Dayanghirang of Davao Oriental said the center violated the rights of the people and committed child abuse, serious illegal detention, and human trafficking.
Several tribal leaders and human rights groups, however, have already issued statements condemning the alleged harassment against the evacuees.