MANILA–United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) bishops expressed outrage at the arson attack against their church compound at Haran, Davao City where hundreds of Lumad evacuees have sought refuge early morning of Wednesday, February 24.
UCCP general secretary general Bishop Reuel Marigsa said they are angry and worried over the apparent arson that wounded five Lumad evacuees, including three children. The victims suffered third degree burns.
“It is clear to us that the burning of UCCP Haran’s Waltertong and Gonzalez cottages was deliberate, as plastic bottles containing gasoline were found around the compound,” Marigsa said.
Marigsa also said that the part of their cyclone fence has been cut for access into the property.
Six UCCP bishops attended the condemnation rally at the Boy Scouts’ Monument in Quezon City last night, including Marigsa, his executive assistant Arthur Asi, Metro Manila Bishop Marino Inong, Northwest Mindanao Bishop Melar Labuntog and Western and Central Visayas Bishop Jezer Bertuldo. The bishops are gathered in Manila for their regular national executive committee meeting.
Marigsa said the attack may only be part of the counterinsurgency operations by government forces through the paramilitary group Alamara.
“It has always been the Alamara that is trying to intimidate us. They keep on trying, but we are not afraid,” Marigsa said.
The UCCP national executive committee vowed to continue to provide sanctuary to the Lumad refugees in their Haran compound.
The Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao also said the attack was premeditated as they have been receiving information that the Haran compound would be burned to the ground.
Pasaka secretary general Jong Monzon said that a datu who sought refuge inside the Haran compound overheard Philippine Army soldiers and the Alamara planning to burn it down if the Lumad refugees refuse to leave.
Monzon said that Kapalong (Davao del Norte) Manobo Datu Dul-om Tumagsa was among those forcibly taken to Davao City by the Alamara and the 60th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army to join a series of rallies in front of the Haran Compound. They were led by Alamara datus Ongging and Larry Mansaloon.
It was then that Tumagsa heard about the Philippine Army and the Alamara’s plan to burn the church compound and the refugee center to the ground and even kill the Lumad evacuees, Monzon said.
Tumagsa decided to bolt the Alamaras and brought his families to Haran to seek refuge themselves.
“Sadly, the threats Datu Dul-om warned us about were carried out,” Monzon said.
The Philippine Army denied involvement in the incident.
“The Philippine Army is not involved in the incident. The accusation is malicious (and) has no basis at all,” its spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao said.
“That is part of the figment of imagination of those who are cohorts of the NPA (New People’s Army),” Hao added.
When sought for clarification if he was accusing the UCCP and the Pasaka as NPA cohorts, Hao replied “Only NPAs have the reason to accuse us. Lahat na lang ibinabato sa amin and, up to now, wala namang napapatunayan.” (We are accused of just about anything and, up to now, nothing has been proven.)
History of arson
Monzon enumerated a series of arson attacks against the Lumads, however.
He cited the burning of four Lumad houses and a cooperative center in White Culaman in Kitaotao, Bukidnon last August; the burning of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development (Alcadev) cooperative store in Sitio Han-yan, Lianga, Surigao del Sur last September; and the burning of the Alcadev teachers’ cottage in Agusan del Sur last October.
“These burnings have been perpetrated by the paramilitary groups under the direction of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They are the ones who threaten us,” Monzon said.
Meanwhile, victims of the Haran burning suffered a restless night.
“The Lumad evacuees refused to stay inside their makeshift huts here at the refugee center and instead laid on the ground all night. Still, they could not sleep,” Monzon said.
“The two-year old victim was crying all night because of the pain on his hands and legs,” he said. (by Raymund B. Villanueva. Featured image above courtesy of Bong del Rosario/Kilab Multimedia. Video below by Kilab Multimedia)