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Lumad groups block RPOC demand

Pro-Lumad groups spurned the intent of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) to close a church that runs a sanctuary for Lumad evacuees.

In a press conference, groups supportive to the plight of Lumad – Pasaka, Karadyawan and Salugpongan ta’tanu Igkanugon – assailed the RPOC for its resolution calling for the immediate closure of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)-Haran Center for alleged violations to the indigenous people (IP).

“We are displaced from our ancestral land, our school has been closed due to the false accusation of (National Security Adviser) Hermogenes Esperon, and now, you want to close the church that has been helping the displaced,” Datu Mentroso Malibato, the Pasaka vice chairman for Southern Mindanao Region, said during a press conference yesterday.

The UCCP-Haran Center in Fr. Selga Street has been the home of Lumad who were displaced by military operation in the hinterlands of Davao del Norte.

The RPOC claimed the security sector recorded violations of IP’s rights, child abuse, child trafficking and the exploitation of IPs for alleged terroristic activities committed inside the facility.

The RPOC, headed by Davao Oriental Gov. Nelson Dayanghirang, is composed of top-ranking military and local government officials, particularly governors and mayors, in the Davao region.

“As our lives and security were threatened, we, Lumad from Davao del Norte and in other provinces from Region 11 were forced to evacuate here in UCCP temporarily,” Malibato said. “We are pleading to stop militarization and deploying paramilitaries, particularly the Alamara, in our communities.”

Malibato lamented that Davao del Norte Gov. Edwin Jubahib pushed for the plan to close UCCP.

“Our challenge to governor Jubahib, if he really experienced poverty and if he is really serving the public, is to see and discuss the real issue why we, the Lumad in Talaingod, Kapalong and other towns in the provinces could not go back to our lands because there are people who are hindering us from living peaceful lives,” Malibato added.

Meanwhile, UCCP Bishop Hamuel Tequis was also dismayed with the RPOC decision.

Tequis said that RPOC did not even consult them as to the decision to close permanently the UCCP-Haran Mission Center.

“We haven’t received any invitation from the RPOC. We did not even talked table-by-table about their decision. If we were to go face-to-face, I would really raise to them the negative effect of their decision,” he said.

UCCP has been serving as a domicile for the Lumad who were forcibly displaced by violence and attacks by paramilitary and military groups for years now. According to Tequis, it has become a place of healing among them who have been distressed by intermittent harassment and violence committed against them.

“The continuing harassment and possible filing of charges against UCCP-Haran Mission Center is a threat against the commitment of the church to do Christ’s mission of ministering to the oppressed and marginalized,” the bishop said.

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