Army, police harass Cordillera Day delegates

DELEGATES to the Cordillera Day were held and harassed by Philippine National Police and Philippine Army (PA) troopers, April 23, along the road at Barangay Balantoy, Balbalan, Kalinga province.

The troopers led by a 50th Infantry Battallion-PA 1st Lt. Julius Ian Daclag Maestrado flagged down the convoy of about 13 vehicles saying they were just ensuring peace and security.

Jeepneys and a minibus ferrying Cordillera Day delegates from Ifugao were held while Ifugao Peasant Movement’s Brandon Lee’s personal belonging were searched.

Bayan Muna Representative Karlos Ysagani Zarate was among those held in the checkpoint.

Lee said the soldiers also asked him about Kennedy Bangibang, National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace panel consultant for national minority affairs.

Lee said the soldiers asked for his ID when they found out Bangibang was not among the delegates.

Lt. Maestrado then ordered Lee to alight from the bus, who refused by demanding for a search warrant.

Meastrado showed Lee a text message from an unknown sender ordering the troops to hold the minibus and look for “Fernando Alikes,” “Ka Sarah” and Lee.

“The description of me in the text message—from my hair to my beard and my six-pocket pair of pants—were correct. It was only the color of my shoes the text message had wrong,” Lee said.

Lee suspects the harassment is connected to an incident involving a suspected state intelligence agent just as their convoy left Lagawe, Ifugao yesterday morning.

He said he confronted the suspected agent upon noticing he was taking photos of the delegation during a send off prayer.

Lee said the soldier were in full battle gear with assaults rifles that terrorized women and children of the delegation.

The convoy was allowed to pass through the checkpoint after Lee’s bag was searched.

“We were held for nearly an hour and it was already late in the evening so I finally allowed them to see the contents of my bag, but under protest,” Lee said.

Lee said the soldiers even ordered him to empty his bag.

Lee was among the activists who received death threats and harassed from suspected state security forces in 2015.

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance has condemned the incident yesterday, saying the checkpoint was a violation of human rights and the International Humanitarian Law.

“The state forces did not have any legal basis to conduct the checkpoint and conduct searches of a civilian activity such as the Cordillera Day.  They even claimed to search for armed combatants among the civilian delegation,” CHRA said.

CHRA also commended the delegation for persisting and asserting their rights. # (Kimberlie Olmaya Quitasol / Photo by Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas)