By JIGGER JERUSALEM
HUNDREDS of protesting farmers from Bukidnon were held by law enforcers in Manolo Fortich town in Bukidnon while en route to this city to conduct a protest rally on Good Friday.
Angelita Jurial, spokesperson of the group Ogyon, one of the participating organizations, said police officers manning a checkpoint flagged down their convoy Friday morning telling the protesters they were looking for someone who’s with them suspected to be a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“First, they told us that a member of Hustisya from San Fernando, Bukidnon, whom they suspected of being an NPA member, was with us,” Jurial said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
But, she said, when they could not find the person they were looking for, they were not permitted to proceed as they were accused of violating a law seeing that the group was bringing along minors.
Jurial reasoned that the children were with their parents and they have to be brought along as no one would be left to care for them while their parents are away.
She said they wanted to mount a protest action in front of the city hall in Cagayan de Oro to show their indignation because of Mayor Oscar Moreno’s pronouncement that he was amenable to the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
“Our stand is that martial law is not the solution. It has, in fact, worsened the plight of the ordinary people. It is not for fighting terrorism, but for civilians and activists,” Jurial said.
Lawyer Beverly Musni of the National Union of the Philippines in Mindanao said some 300 farmers were on the way to Cagayan de Oro to participate in a march rally called “Kalbaryo sa mga Kabus.”
The farmers, she said, were protesting the lack of food brought about by intense military operations in the countryside and land grabbing of ancestral lands.
Musni said the policemen and employees of the local Department of Social Welfare and Development accused the farmers of trafficking of minors because of the presence of children in the convoy.
“What they have done is without basis. How can there be trafficking when the children were with their parents?” she stressed.
In a statement, Lt. Col. Surki Sereñas, police regional spokesperson, said that while the National Police respects every person’s right to travel, to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances, “we cannot allow flagrant defiance of the law, breach of peace and disorderly conduct in a supposedly peaceful and tranquil day of the [Lent].”
“Hence, the group identifying themselves as members of dubious[indigenous peoples]
and peasant organization of Bukidnon on their way to stage a rally in Cagayan de Oro City were stopped by PNP personnel at Manolo Fortich checkpoint for routine public safety and security check. Government authorities are also ensuring that the group is not violating the law on trafficking in person and RA 7610 (Exploitation of minors),” the police officer added.
Section 7 (Child Trafficking) of Article IV of the law, Republic Act 7610, cited, states “Any person who shall engage in trading and dealing with children including, but not limited to, the act of buying and selling of a child for money, or for any other consideration, or barter, shall suffer the penalty of reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua. The penalty shall be imposed in its maximum period when the victim is under twelve (12) years of age.”
Serenas said they were awaiting word from the DSWD before the convoy would be released.
“The DSWD is checking if it is indeed the parents who are accompanying the minors,” Serenas said. “Once the DSWD says it’s okay, the PNP will release the convoy… They are free to go as soon as they are cleared of any unlawful infraction.”
Musni said the farmers were adamant that no children will be handed over to the custody of the DSWD.
Jurial said they were not keen on leaving their children under the care of the local government-run social welfare facilities. (with reports from Mindanews)