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Rights group condemns harassment of relief mission for SurSur evacuees

By Ben Serrano

Church and cause-oriented groups engaged in relief work were allegedly harassed even before they reached their destination to deliver relief packs to Manobo evacuees in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Contributed photo

Human rights group Karapatan-Caraga decried alleged harassment and pressure from the military when church and cause-oriented groups deliver relief goods to Manobo evacuees who have fled their homes due to heavy military presence in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Bishop Modesto Villasanta, vice-chair of Karapatan-Caraga said church people from Diocese of Tandag, Missionary Sisters of Mary (MSM), Friends of the Lumad and Catholic priest Fr. Raymond Ambray who were carrying relief goods for the evacuees on their way to Sitio Km. 9 were held for hours at a checkpoint manned by soldiers and policemen in Barangay St. Christine over the weekend.

Villasanta said they were planning to take legal action against the government security forces.

“They went there bringing only food and medicines but they were allegedly harassed that we have to investigate if there are human rights violated, ” Villasanta told Caraga News Courier, in a phone interview.

According to Villasanta , Ambray who was carrying in his pick-up food packs and relief goods for the evacuees on the way to Sitio Km. 9 were held on Saturday at a military checkpoint o then was brought to the military camp and questioned the Roman Catholic priest.

“Reportedly , two soldiers at the checkpoint boarded at the back of the pick-up of Fr. Ambray and directed him to go to their military commander in Barangay St. Christine, Lianga, Surigao del Sur and held their for hours after asking many requirements or papers of the group Fr. Ambray who is assistant parish priest of Bislig Parish in Bislig City,” Villasanta said.

Ambray is also member of the Board of Trustees of tribal school Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. (ALCADEV).

Diatagon barangay officials confirmed that there are still nearly 2,000 indigenous people who have fled their homes due to heavy military presence now holding on in Sitio Km. 9.

Village chieftain Libby Te said the evacuees were residents of Panac-moan, Han-ayan, Dikoy, Manluy-a, Sitio Km. 14; and Emerald villages who evacuated from their homes Wednesday evening (July 5) for fear of being caught in the crossfire due to on-going military operations in upland areas.

The evacuees are now temporary living at Simowao Tribal Community School with some living at houses of relatives in Sitio Km. 9 which is actually 9 kilometers away from this barangay in bumpy and hilly road ride.

“They told us they already have trauma on what happened in the past like the murders of their three tribal datus and still unresolved killings in the area. This is maybe the reason why out of fear when they saw the military. They left their homes due their trauma,” Te said.

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