THE officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that they could not grant the demand of the indigenous people (lumad), who staged a protest Monday in front of their headquarters in Panacan, as it is their duty to serve the communities where the protesters belong.
Deputy Commander Brigadier General Ronnie Evangelista, in an interview with Sun.Star Davao, said that the presence of military in the lumad communities in Kapalong, Compostela Valley, and Bukidnon is due to the command of their leaders to secure the safety of those areas from threats of violence by members of the New People's Army (NPA).
"Sa totoo lang, working in the mountains, is not also that enticing for us as we need to trek kilometers after kilometers of lands but we do it because it is our job. We need to follow the commands of our leaders which is to protect the people there. We are just living with our oath," Evangelista said.
The lumads set up a barricade blocking the busy roads of Panacan last Friday wherein thousands of commuters, who got stuck in the traffic, got angry.
It is considered as a desperate act from more than a thousand of lumads who were spending almost a year now in the UCCP Haran evacuation center.
They ran from their communities which they claim were infested with armies who keep on harassing them.
They are taking shelter in the evacuation camp while waiting for the response of the national government regarding their concern.
The lumads were also joined by a group of small-scale miners from Pantukan, Compostela Valley who allegedly were also victims of the military's torture and harassment.
Acts of violence?
In a statement of 45-year old Joey Evangelista, a Catholic priest who is currently the administrator of the Malita Tagakaulo Mission of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Digos, said that the military who are assigned in the mountains, especially in their area "have a different reputation".
Evangelista is helping Orlando "Kaido" Engo, a Tagakulo farmer in Sitio Matamis, Barangay Demoloc, Malita who was subjected to torture by Sgt. Sandy Batolbatol of the 72nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
Kaido said he nearly died from Batolbatol's and four other Scaa (Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary) members' heavy blows using rifle butts, fists, and a huge stick of coffee tree.
Batolbatol and the four Scaas are now placed under arrest by the Commander of 72nd Infantry Battalion at their headquarters at Camp Gen Manuel T Yan Sr, Barangay Tuboran, Mawab, Compostela Valley Province.
They are restricted from barracks to ensure their appearance while the investigation is ongoing.
Names of the four Scaas were withheld until the investigations have clearly established their involvement in the said incident. Due process of law shall be strictly observed in the investigation and when evidence warrant, they will be prosecuted with the full force of military justice, including trial by Courts-Martial. The soldier and the CAAs are subject to military laws.
The command further reiterates that the investigation will not be prejudice and that any investigation that maybe conducted by other agencies and shall make available the soldier and CAAs for such investigation.
Evangelista, in an interview, said that there are no grounds for the lumads to fear going back to their communities even with the military around.
"There is always a black sheep in every group. Those who are caught practicing inhumane acts against the people who we should be protecting instead shall receive the punishment that they deserve," the general concluded.