Charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention filed against activists, including a Protestant pastor and two Catholic nuns, who helped displaced tribal people in Mindanao last year have been dropped.
“It is a vindication of our support to the legitimacy of the demands raised by the tribal people,” said lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, a prominent human rights activist and member of the Philippine Congress.
In joint resolution issued on May 26, the Office of the Ombudsman found no sufficient evidence for probable cause against eight activists who were accused of abducting tribal people in 2015.
A similar case filed before the City Prosecutor’s Office in Davao City was also dismissed for lack of evidence.
Among the accused were Protestant pastor Jurie Jaime and Catholic nuns Stella Matutina and Restita Miles of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.
They helped some 700 tribal people who sought shelter in a church-run evacuation center in Davao City last year after fleeing their village homes because of military operations against communist rebels.
A complaint later filed by tribal woman, Nora Kulot Tacay, alleged men carrying machetes and sticks prevented her and her daughter from leaving the center.
Tacay also complained of the difficulties the family had to endure in the evacuation center.
Other refugees, however, testified that they were only advised not return to their community because of the military operations. They were not forced to stay in the evacuation center, witnesses said.
In its resolution, the Office of the Ombudsman noted that “record shows the [tribal people] had the option to leave or stay” and the alleged crimes were not established.
“Neither was it shown that [the respondents] detained, nor caused, or even ordered the detention of complainants,” added the resolution.
Zarate claimed the charges were instigated by the military which used “hapless tribal people who were already victims.”
“They were used to file trumped up charges against supporters of the cause of the indigenous peoples,” he added.
In February this year, gunmen tried to burn the temporary shelter, which stands within the compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. | Jefry Tupas for UCAN