Philippine military, police harass human rights defenders, journalists

CMFR/PHILIPPINES – Military and police personnel allegedly harassed human rights defenders and journalists who were on a fact-finding mission and relief operation in the province of Davao Oriental from 18 to 20 April 2013. Ranking military officers in the province have denied the allegation.

A fact-finding mission of 69 representatives from different human rights organizations and alternative media groups was on its way to the towns of Baganga, Boston and Cateel to look into alleged human rights violations committed against the victims of typhoon Pablo (international name: Bopha) which devastated those and other towns last December 2012, and to distribute relief goods to the victims. Representatives of the Manila-based Pinoy Weekly, Davao Today, Kilab Multimedia, and a Sun.Star Davao joined the fact-finding mission.

According to Pinoy Weekly’s Macky Macaspac, one of the journalists with the mission, military personnel stopped them several times on their way to Baganga town on April 18 (Thursday). Macaspac told CMFR the group was first stopped at a checkpoint of the 67th Infantry Battalion in Cateel, and then was stopped and “detained” by several policemen at a Commission on Elections (COMELEC) checkpoint in Aliwagwag village (also in Cateel) for approximately two hours.

Macaspac said that the supposed COMELEC gun ban checkpoint seemed to only target the fact-finding mission. He alleged that it was only set up when the fact-finding mission’s vehicles (Saddam trucks) were approaching. “They (the policemen) were letting other vehicles pass without inspecting them,” Macaspac said in Filipino.

Macaspac said the police officers in Aliwagwag insisted on escorting them to Baganga. “They immediately removed the COMELEC checkpoint sign, and put it on the back of their vehicle when they offered to escort us. No one was left at the supposed checkpoint, not a sign or any police personnel,” Macaspac said.

On April 20, when the fact-finding mission was scheduled to go back to Davao City, the members of the fact-finding mission were stunned to find out that the Saddam truck drivers were nowhere in sight. Macaspac said some residents told them that some military officers had approached the Saddam truck drivers and threatened them.

The fact-finding mission rented another truck but the military allegedly would not allow it to pass without showing its registration. When the fact-finding mission told the provincial government about the harassment, they were allegedly reprimanded. “Hindi kasi kayo nagprotocol sa probinsya,” a local official was quoted by Macaspac as saying.

By April 21, despite the insistence of the local military to “rescue” them, members of the fact-finding mission were able to get a ride back to Davao City through the help of Bayan Muna’s Joel Virador, some church workers, and journalists from Davao City.

The online news Davao Today, in a 20 April 2013 report, quoted Lt. Col. Krishnamurti Mortela of the 67th Infantry Battalion as denying allegations of harassment. Mortela told Davao Today that his men helped the mission “even if they had not coordinated their efforts with us and instead independently initiated activities in the area.”

MindaNews also quoted 701st Infantry Brigade commander Col. Leonardo Rey Guerrero in a 21 April 2013 report:  “We categorically deny that there is a hostage-taking. They are on their own in that sitio. They did not coordinate their activities with the LGU (local government unit). Now they are asking for help of  the LGU and military are finding ways to assist them from being stranded, not hostaged.  Instead, they will be hosted by LGU and military as we are preparing vehicles to pick them up.”