Armed paramilitary forces laid siege to a church compound housing indigenous peoples refugees in President Rodrigo Duterte’s home turf of Davao City Sunday morning, January 26, terrorizing Lumad children in their sanctuary.
Around 50 members of the paramilitary Alamara descended at the Haran compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) at nine o’clock in the morning, brandishing bolos and threatening the terrified refugees inside.
The bandits carried placards alleging that the UCCP brainwashed the Manobo refugees to resist ongoing mining activities in their ancestral lands in the Pantaron Mountain Range.
Some of the Alamara bandits wielded bolos and wire cutters and managed to enter the compound, forcing the refugees staying at the sanctuary area to seek refuge inside the UCCP office building.
Manobo leaders faced off with the Alamara and prevented them from overwhelming the compound.
UCCP Southeast Mindanao Jurisdictional Area Bishop Hamuel Tequis arrived at 10 a.m. to confront the Alamara as police officers also arrive to help ease the tension.
The police however refused to arrest the Alamara members who broke into UCCP compound. It also prevented members of the local media to enter the compound to cover the refugees’ press conference.
Davao city vice mayor Sebastian Duterte later arrived to broker a dialogue between the bishop, the refugees and the Alamara.
The Alamara attackers reportedly wanted to haul the refugees back to their communities in Kapalong and Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Bishop Tequis said his church continues to stand firm on their commitment to serve the indigenous peoples in Davao region.
“By doing our duty to act as shepherds of the poor and the deprived we manifest our unwavering commitment to defend the rights of those who are deprived of their civil liberties,” Tequis said in a statement.
The bishop said the continuing harassment and possible filing of charges against UCCP Haran Mission Center is “a threat against the commitment of the church to do Christ’s mission of ministering to the oppressed and the marginalized.”
UCCP Haran had been serving as a sanctuary for Lumad forcibly displaced by violence and attacks by paramilitary and military groups in the region since the early 1990s. Earlier, it has been attacked by bandits, including an attempt to burn down the temporary Lumad school put up for its young refugees numbering around 200.
“[UCCP Haran had] served as a home for victims of oppression and injustice. It has become a place of healing among them who have been distressed by intermittent harassment and violence committed against them. But more than these, UCCP Haran is a sanctuary of peace in keeping with God’s own purpose,” Tequis said.
The bishop urged the government not to intervene in the church’s “constructive and beneficial affairs” for the oppressed and downtrodden even as he condemned what he calls the vilification and crucifixion of the UCCP for simply “shepherding the Lumad.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)