By FROILAN GALLARDO, Special Correspondent
and ERWIN MASCARIÑAS
THE human rights watchdog Karapatan accused government forces of exerting efforts to impede the voices of indigenes protesting the militarization in their villages during Monday’s celebration of the International Human Rights Day.
Karapatan said the government set up several checkpoints along a key highway in central Mindanao to stop a caravan of hundreds of indigenous people coming down to this city.
Police detained seven minors who were traveling with the caravan without their parents.
Fr. Allan Khen Apus, spokesperson of Karapatan in northern Mindanao, said the protesters also harassed by soldiers and policemen as they travelled along the Sayre Highway from the Pantaron mountain range in Bukidnon to Cagayan de Oro.
Apus said many of the indigenes were forced to sleep on Sunday night along the highway on the backs of the trucks.
Camp Alagar spokesperson Supt. Surki Sereñas denied that the military and police harassed protesters.
Sereñas said there were three checkpoints set up by the police and Army in Malaybalay, Impasugong and Barangay Baloy in Cagayan de Oro.
“We just reinforced these checkpoints. We did not have the intention of stopping the caravan,” Sereñas said.
He said the police personnel checked the vehicles for firearms and asked the indigenes for identity papers.
Sereñas said after checking for guns and identity papers, the caravan was allowed to proceed.
He said the minors were held at the checkpoint in Baloy, Tablon here when the police found they were traveling without their parents.
Sereñas said they were later turned over to the Cagayan de Oro Social Welfare Development (CSWD) office for proper disposition.
He said social workers required the parents of the children to be present for their release or the CSWD would bring the children back to their villages to reunite with their parents.
“The PNP is aware of the juvenile justice in our country. We did not detain any minors,” Sereñas said.
Lawyer Czarina Musni of the National Union of People’s Lawyers said they have agreed with the CSWD proposal.
“The CSWD will have the children in custody and if their parents could not come for one reason or another, they will be the ones who will bring them back to their parents,” she said.
In Butuan City, some 3,000 demonstrators took to the streets on Monday.
They moved around from the offices of the Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Justice, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Trade and Industry, National Commission on Indigenous People, Department of Education, Commission on Human Rights, and Department of Agriculture.
“The main purpose of our activity is to commemorate and remind the public about the importance of our basic human rights. People seem to have forgotten that this is an integral part of our lives,” said Fr. Warlie Carlos of Karapatan in Agusan del Norte.
The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that about 141 cases of human rights violations have been documented in Caraga alone this year.
“There are 20 documented victims of extra-judicial killings in Caraga, 13 of which [victimized] leaders of the peasant farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Caraga,” Bayan said.
The group said most of the arrests made were based on false accusations “done under the cover of the martial law.”