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Massacre investigation faces military harassment

DAVAO (UCAN) : Church groups working in tribal villages in Mindanao are accusing The Philippine Armed Forces of harassment and of maligning the credibility of a Church investigation into the murders of indigenous peoples in the area.

“The military harassed the group that investigated a reported massacre last week,” Reverend Christopher Ablon, from the Philippine Independent Church, said on September 7.

Reverend Ablon said he has received reports that the military labelled participants of a September 1 fact-finding mission in Bukidnon province Communist rebels.

“The military’s allegation is meant to malign the credibility of the mission,” Reverend Ablon, a spokesperson for the human rights group, Karapatan, in northern Mindanao, said.

Reverend Ablon said the military tried to prevent them from uncovering the truth and are now attacking the personalities of the participants of the mission.

“Their accusation is a big insult, particularly to the priesthood and the members of the Church,” he said.

In Manila, the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, denounced the militarisation being enforced on indigenous people’s communities and schools in Surigao del Sur province following the murder of the director of a school for tribal children and two tribal leaders on September 1.

The sisters said the deployment of troops in tribal villages in Liangga “curtails the children’s right to education, while being exposed to acts of violence, thus leaving them traumatised.”

The sisters said, “It is high time that at top of our voices we shout to the whole world in protest to bring to an end the loss of innocent lives by demanding that those behind these crimes be punished.”

They called on the president, Noynoy Aquino, “to make true his intention of treading the right path... by respecting indigenous people’s rights to ancestral domains.”

The sisters also demanded the “dismantling of paramilitary groups involved in the government counter-insurgency programme” and the immediate pullout of the 36th Infantry Battalion from tribal communities in Liangga in Surigao del Sur.

The military, meanwhile, has denied it is behind the armed group Magahat-Bagani that has been accused of attacking tribal communities in Mindanao.

“It is not part of our command and control,” a lieutenant general, Aurelio Baladad, head of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said.

Baladad made the statement after the governor of the province, Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Sur called on the military to disband and disarm the paramilitary groups.

The governor said members of the two groups are responsible for attacks on tribal communities over the past six years.

Sister Rowena Pineda, from the Medical Mission Sisters, said she joined the fact-finding mission in Bukidnon during the first week of September.

“Threats, harassment and intimidation are not new,” she said, adding that those who perpetrate human rights violations “use it to manipulate and block the search for truth.”

The groups—composed of members of the Sisters’ Association in Mindanao, United Methodist Church, Philippine Independent Church, Indigenous Peoples’ Apostolate of the diocese of Bukidnon, Medical Mission Sisters, Student Christian Movement of The Philippines and the Rural Missionaries of The Philippines—went to Pangantucan town to look into the reported murder of five Manobo tribal people after a 15-year-old boy reported that soldiers murdered his blind father, his two brothers and two teenage cousins on August 18.

“We are legal associations with proper documents,” Sister Noemi Degala, from the Sisters’ Association in Mindanao Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary, said.