Group accuses military of violating ceasefire in Davao Norte
TAGUM CITY, Davao del Norte, Philippines – The human rights group Karapatan said the military violated its self-imposed ceasefire, in connection with the visit of Pope Francis, when it held for several hours at least 42 people – most of them children – on Monday.
In an emailed statement, Karapatan said the group the military held and questioned was to attend Tuesday’s dialogue organized by the Save Our Schools in Davao City.
Save Our Schools is a network of child-focused non-government organizations, church-based groups and other stakeholders advocating for children’s right to education.
Karapatan said the group, which included children as young as nine years old from upland communities in Kapalong, Davao del Norte, was flagged by soldiers manning a detachment in Barangay Doña Andrea in Asuncion town, also in Davao del Norte on Monday morning.
“The lumad students and adults were to attend a dialogue for the Save our Schools (organization) tomorrow (Tuesday) when harassed and held by the 60th Infantry Battalion,” Karapatan said.
Lt. Col. Roberto Bunagan, 60th IB commander, denied the allegation, saying it was the police that “intercepted” some 42 individuals from the upland barangay (village) of Gupitan in Kapalong.
“We merely facilitated the interception since there is a Cafgu (paramilitary Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit) detachment in the area. It was the police, which spearheaded the operation,” Bunagan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.
He said the action was prompted by a complaint by tribal leaders about unidentified persons taking children as young as nine years old to an “event in Davao City.”
Bunagan said the military learned that the peace dialogue was to be held in Gupitan and not in Davao City.
“If they were to attend the peace dialogue, then there’s no reason for them to leave Kapalong and troop to Davao City since the event is in Gupitan itself … It’s good authorities acted quickly,” Bunagan said, adding that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was reportedly expected during the event.
“They were brought to the Asuncion police station for documentation then sent home. Lumad leaders and personnel from the Kapalong (local government unit) fetched them,” he said.
Bunagan shrugged off Karapatan’s claim that the Army violated the military’s self-imposed truce.
“Where’s the violation in that when in fact it was a police operation? We merely facilitated the interception and did not carry out (a military) operation,” he said.
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