The following is a press release of a multi-sectoral group including church people, that went on a fact-finding mission in Mindanao.
DAVAO CITY – Arriving back at Davao City at Monday dawn, the 70 delegates of the three-day National Humanitarian and Fact-finding Mission remain apprehensive of more boding violence now possibly aimed at the Mandaya communities that hosted the mission delegates who were held hostage and harassed by the military in the hinterlands of Binondo village in Baganga, Davao Oriental Saturday until Sunday.
Sister Noemi Degala, SMSM slammed the earlier statement of Col. Leopoldo Rey Guerrero, commanding officer of the 701st brigade in Baganga, that the soldiers “hosted, not hostaged” Degala’s group. Degala, Executive Secretary of Sisters Association in Mindanao (SAMIN) and convener of BALSA MINDANAO, said it was the Mandaya community that warmly hosted the mission delegates despite the threats of the military against them.
“We are not withdrawing our claim that we were held hostage by the military. By the mere fact that we were stuck in a community between two military detachments, with all our means of transportation deliberately hampered by the soldiers to prevent our safe passage, we categorically say that we were held hostage. We may not have been held at gunpoint, but the clear hand of terror of the military in intimidating us and causing us psychological trauma, clearly points to hostaging,” stressed Degala.
The religious leader clarified that a “hostage”, even according to its definition, is one that is involuntarily controlled by an outside influence.
“Cutting all means of transportation to prevent us from getting out of the remote areas of Binondo left us with meager food and water and compelled us to trek for not less than seven kilometres. These were the circumstances perpetuated by the 67th IBPA and their masters. The drivers and the locals revealed with regrets that their refusal to help us was a consequence of the military’s rule of terror in their communities,” added Degala.
Civilian Supremacy Over the Military
Col. Guerrero blamed the mission delegates of their fate for not coordinating their activities with the military. In a TV interview in ANC Sunday night, Lt. Col. Krishnamurti Mortela, commanding officer of 67th IB, was quoted as saying that everyone is free to go to Davao Oriental.
Degala quickly belied Guerrero and Mortela’s statements and said that they coordinated with the LGU of Baganga. “If everyone was really free to deliver services in Baganga, why were we barred with logs, trucks, and boulders? Why did they delay the services that we have brought for the marginalized people of Binondo? They clearly want to prevent the truth about Jose’s death as well the militarisation of humanitarian services in Baganga from coming out,” said Degala.
She also lambasted Guerrero and accused him of being inconsistent. “He said that the military ‘hosted’ us. He was trying to convince the public that we were being taken cared of. But why would these so called ‘hosts’ rescue us? What’s the need of the rescue if we were truly being hosted?” asked Degala.
Fear of Military Reprisal Under Oplan Bayanihan
Rita Baua of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan National Office, one of the delegates of the mission, said her group would hold the 67th IBPA responsible should any harm fall on the communities that hosted them.
“If the military were able to intimidate our team of nuns, pastors, doctors, nurses, professors, scientists, then it is certain that they could do even more to the already marginalized indigenous peoples who live in daily fear and military aggression,” declared Baua, who, at the age of 68, braved the bumpy truck-ride and hours of long trek to deliver services to the victims of typhoon Pablo.
She blamed Aquino’s counterinsurgency plan Oplan Bayanihan for their ordeal. She declared that militarization of relief distribution is one face of Oplan Bayanihan. “There is an apparent effort to militarize the relief services in Davao Oriental. Even in one of the checkpoints that held us on our way to Baganga, the soldiers told us to turn over the relief goods and medicines to them and let them do the distribution. Because we were persistent, and because our mission had a fact-finding component, they did their best to delay and threaten us so we would not be able to discover and expose their anomalies,” added Baua.
In the initial data gathered from the community served by the mission, some American soldiers were seen in the village early in March. The residents also mentioned that they assisted the military in distributing relief goods.
Last April 5, the Balikatan Joint US-RP military exercises participated in by around 4,000 US troops was launched. “We suspect the Americans spotted were US troops conducting surveys in the areas of Davao Oriental as earlier reported in some newspapers. We understand how strategically important Davao Oriental is in America’s war posturing against North Korea and in its intent to strengthen its bases in the Asia-Pacific region for its economic and political interests,” explained Baua.
Rich and Inspiring Experiences
Sister Noemi Degala said that the mission was successful despite the harassment. She initially reported that their medical mission served more than 200 patients, circumcised 12 young boys and served 14 dental patients. The mission was also able to distribute around 10 kilos of rice for each family in sitios Mantapay, Limot and Tanggaan and conducted psychosocial therapy for the children.
“Our noble cause was victorious despite many attempts to make us cower. We consider the three-day mission as a blessing that helped us experience not only the condemnable hostility of the military but also the good-hearted Lumad brothers and sisters who are also potentially-capable of rising up for the protection of creation and for the defense of their ancestral domain, their life,” concluded Degala.
Sister Noemi Degala, SMSM
Executive Secretary, Sisters Association in Mindanao
Convener, BALSA Mindanao
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan