THE Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in Davao Region is looking into arson as the cause of the fire that hit an evacuation center in Davao City at dawn on Wednesday, injuring five lumad (indigenous peoples) evacuees, including three children.

The fire razed two dormitories and partly damaged four houses at UCCP Haran Compound in Barangay 8-A.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte immediately ordered a thorough investigation of the incident that razed the temporary homes sheltering displaced lumads from Talaingod in Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley and Bukidnon.

Admitting that he only learned of the incident Wednesday afternoon, Duterte in a telephone interview said, “I deplore the burning if it’s intentional. But only if it is – considering the history of that place there.”

If investigation will show arson, he said, “Then the police should dig deeper and find out who did it.”

"There were actually two fire incidents which took place within the compound. Una, doon mismo sa evacuation place ng mga lumad wherein five or six hovels ang nasunog, and second, yung female and male dormitories," Fire Officer 1 (FO1) Rogel John Alocelja, arson investigator under the Intelligence and Investigation Section (IIS) of the BFP-Davao, told Sun.Star Davao in an interview.

Alocelja said that four small houses near the dormitories were also partially damaged.

Of the five injured victims, the youngest is a two-year-old boy. The victims sustained first to second degree burn.

But the BFP-Davao only identified four of the victims one Demon Anayab, 2; Odesa Dumol, 12; Magno Kulot, 14; and Loloy Anayab, 30.

Duterte called on Dabawenyos to be calm as he assured that the City Government is on top of the incident.

Duterte and progressive groups have sympathized with the plight of the lumad evacuees and join their call for respect for their right to self-determination, right over their ancestral land, cultural integrity, meaningful economic growth, and justice.

Houses at the lumad evacuation center inside the UCCP Haran compound in Davao City were believed to have been burned by unidentified persons. In a statement, Gabriela Women’s Party condemned the incident.

Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan is calling for an investigation into the incident.

“It is imperative that a thorough investigation must be conducted and that perpetrators are made accountable. The violations, harassment and killings continue and the lumads are being attacked without end. This fact alone shows the Aquino government’s tolerance, if not its outright imprimatur to this ethnocide," she said.

Gabriela stated that lumads believe that the arson incident was perpetrated by the Alamara, a paramilitary group backed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Alocelja said the victims were already brought to Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) for treatment, while the fire fighters from different stations were able to control the fire around 3 a.m.

The damage was placed at around P900,000.

Alocelja said authorities believe that the evacuation site and the dormitories were burned intentionally based on the evidence — one gallon gasoline and one torch — recovered from the area.

"We are now conducting follow-up investigation on the incident in coordination with the personnel of the Davao City Police Office to possibly identify the suspects of the crime and locate their whereabouts," Alocelja said.

He said the BFP-Davao already recorded 54 fire incidents in January and around 50 fire incidents in February this year.

He added that these incidents are grass and residential fire, while the recent one is the first arson recorded.

In a separate interview, Pasaka Lumad Regional Confederation secretary general Jhong Monzon said he believes that the incident has something to do with their ongoing clamor for peace and justice for victims of the abuse and killings.

He said around 200 families and 700 individuals are seeking temporary shelter at the UCCP Haran Compound due to alleged massive militarization in Talaingod town, Davao del Norte, and other provinces in the region. (With SAE)