Church leaders and human rights groups in the southern Philippine city of Davao are condemning a police raid of a Protestant compound where some 700 indigenous people sought shelter.
At least 15 people were hurt when policemen, armed with truncheons and riot shields, tried to force the indigenous tribesmen to leave the Haran Center of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines on July 23.
The policemen destroyed temporary structures that housed the families inside the compound. The tribesmen have been living in the evacuation center since May this year after fleeing their homes in the hinterland villages of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon provinces due to military operations against communist rebels.
“It is insane for the police to force the people to return to their militarized communities,” said Sister Noime Degala of the Sisters Association in Mindanao, an organization of missionary nuns working in rural communities in the region.
A scuffle ensued when the displaced tribesmen resisted the policemen, scaring at least 100 children who were attending school in a makeshift classroom inside the compound.
However, the attempted eviction failed when Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte intervened.
“We do not want violence and bloodshed. Those who want to go home will be allowed to go home, and for those who do not, they have the liberty to stay,” Duterte said.
People living in the shelter, however, expressed continued concern.
“I don’t think they will really leave us alone,” said Neling Sambag, who secured her eight-month-old child in a corner of the compound during the police raid. The other children hid inside the makeshift classroom.
“I am angry, but at the same I am afraid for my children and the rest of us,” she said.
The policemen raided the center on the order of Representative Nancy Catamco, head of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines Congress. She had earlier urged the tribesmen to return to their communities.
A dialogue between the people and Catamco last week collapsed when the legislator insisted that the tribesmen go back to their homes. The people have been neglected, the legislator said in a press briefing.
The legislator accused human rights groups of “kidnapping” and “manipulating” the people.
“They need to go home because they are being treated inhumanely at the evacuation center,” Catamco said.
The people in the shelter fled their homes after government-supported militia accused the villagers of supporting the communist New People’s Army guerillas.
Sambag said she left her village in Kapalong town, Davao del Norte province, after a member of the militia attacked her “for no apparent reason.”
“They attack everyone, especially those whom they suspect of being supportive of the rebels,” she said.
Datu Kailo Buntulan, head of the Ata-Manobo tribe in Talaingod village, said people in the shelter resisted the government’s move to send them home because of the continued presence of soldiers in their communities.
“We are here because we are in danger. If they send us home, we will be in absolute danger,” Buntulan said. | Jef Tupas in Davao and Joe Torres in Manila