70 accuse Army of harassment after fact-finding mission for ‘Pablo’ survivors

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DAVAO CITY, Philippines – More than 70 health workers, social workers, nuns, journalists and environmentalists have accused government soldiers of sabotaging their transportation, which had forced them to spend the night in a hinterland village in Baganga, Davao Oriental.

The volunteers of the 3-day national humanitarian and fact-finding mission left the city on Friday to deliver relief, medical and psychosocial services to areas where residents have been suffering from the devastation brought by typhoon Pablo.

Led by Balsa Mindanao, a group engaged in relief and rehabilitation work, the mission also investigated the murder of village councilor and Cristina Jose, who had been leading protests against the slow delivery of government relief goods to the typhoon survivors.

Motorcycle-riding gunmen shot Jose last March 4 after she led the occupation at the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Davao City to demand genuine relief services.

Sister Noemi Degala of Balsa Mindanao, in a text message, said the humanitarian volunteers were harassed even before they reached their destination.

“The group was illegally held twice in checkpoints by members of the military in the municipality of Cateel. Military assets blocked the road with a dump truck, logs and rocks in two different locations enough to bar the mission members from passing,” said Degala said.

Degala said the volunteers were wrapping up their mission and were set to leave Sitio Cabuyao in Barangay (village) Binondo on Saturday when they discovered that the drivers of the two trucks that the group hired abandoned their vehicles and were nowhere to be found.

“The habal-habal drivers in the area would not allow us to rent their motorcycles because they fear that they will be harmed by the soldiers. These (habal-habal) drivers, including our drivers, were harassed by the soldiers,” Degala said.

To ensure that the vehicles would not be able to exit the area, logs, sand and gravel were also dumped along the road, Degala added.

Sitio Cabuyao is a two-hour travel away from the poblacion (village) area of Baganga. The mission members spent the night in Sitio Cabuyao. They were rescued by other cause-oriented groups on Sunday afternoon.

Maj. Jake Obligado, civil military operations chief of the 10th Infantry Division, denied allegations that government soldiers threatened the drivers, forcing them to abandon the group.

“We have nothing to do with it,” Obligado said.

Davao Oriental governor Corazon Malanyaon said in a phone interview that she ordered her people to check on the situation and provide assistance to the volunteers.

Malanyaon explained that the local police force reported that the group, before it went to Sitio Cabuyao, was briefly held in checkpoints manned by policemen.

“But the police said that this was a security measure at election time. The police told me that they even escorted the group until they reached Baganga,” Malanyaon said.

“Malanyaon and her group maximized the relief goods intended for Pablo survivors for the interest of their political party and candidates. And they are also afraid that their involvement in the massive abuse of the environment through logging will be exposed,” Sheena Duazo, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan regional spokesperson, said.

Malanyaon, unopposed in her reelection bid, denied the allegations, saying that she was never involved in activities that would compromise the interest of her constituents.

“I would resign, even if I were to win again in the elections despite the fact that I am unopposed, if they could prove their accusations,” Malanyaon said.

Human rights lawyer and Bayan Muna second nominee Carlos Isagani Zarate said they would hold accountable the military personnel and its leadership in the area for this “latest assault and affront on the rights of the people.”

“If the local government in the province led by Gov. Corazon Malanyaon cannot assert its supremacy over the military and instead colludes with the military in the commission of wanton human rights violations, we will also certainly hold it accountable,” Zarate added.

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