By Francis Wakefield
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo Sunday said that no less than indigenous leaders in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, have belied claims made by former Bayan Muna Partylist Representative Satur Ocampo’s camp that they were just rescuing children, including 14 minors, which were found inside their vans during a checkpoint.
In an interview over radio station DZRH, Arevalo said no less than Datu Andigao Agay and municipal executive tribal chieftain Bae Pilar Libayao already made statements belyingthe claims by Ocampo and ACT Party-list teacher’s Rep. France Castro that they were just on a humanitarian mission in Talaingod.
“Mabuting linawin lamang po natin ‘yung sinasabi nila na what they did actually was to rescue these children, and in particular teachers as well. Ang sinasabi po diyan ng myembro mismo nitong tinatawag na Indigenous People representative ito pong si Bai Pilar…at saka itong si Datu Agay na isa sa mga tribal leaders dun sa Talaingod. Sinasabi po nila na ano ang tinatawag nilang rescue samantalang wala namang gyera sa bundok? [It’s best we clear things up that what they did actually was to rescue these children, and in particular teachers as well. What the members of Indigenous People representative Bai Pilar.. and Datu Agay who is one of the tribe leaders in Talaingod, said what rescue are they talking about considering that there is no war in the mountain?],” Arevalo said.
“Ikawala, paano po nila sasabihing inire-rescue ang mga bata na tinangay nila na wala naman pong permisong kaukulan buhat sa kanilang magulang [Second, how can they say they are rescuing the children which they took without permission from their parents],” he added.
Arevalo said what triggered the more intensified checkpoint operation was the report received by authorities that the children were missing with their parents looking for them.
Datu Andigao Agay and Bae Pilar Libayao earlier confronted Ocampo’s group and complained why they brought the children along with them without the permission of the tribe. They added that the situation in their area is normal or peaceful.
Capt. Erick Wynmer F. Calulot, the Public Information Officer of the Army’s 1003rd Brigade, earlier said that based on information they received, the group under Ocampo was on board five vans when they were stopped past 9 p.m. Wednesday, by members of the PNP Talaingod supported by Army units after it was found out during a random checkpoint that the convoy of five vans held minor children who came from different parts of Mindanao and was headed to an unknown destination.
He said the incident was confirmed by the social welfare and development officer of Talaingod.
Further inspection revealed the group was composed of minors ages 14 to 17, prompting the PNP to coordinate with the local government’s Social Welfare and Development Office who profiled the group and rescued the minors.
Further inspection also revealed that the group composed of 74 persons of which 10 are teachers who belong to ACT Party-list and are teachers of Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center whose main campus is located in Sitio Dulyan, Brgy..Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao .Del Norte.
Calulot said some of the children who were from the area were already taken by their parents to their homes. As for the others who are not from the area, coordination is already being made by the local government to inform their relatives as to the children’s whereabouts.
Capt. Jerry Lamosao, Public Affairs Office chief of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said the 14 minors came from different parts of Mindanao , mostly from Talaingod, Davao del Norte. The others came from Zamboanga del Sur, Bukidnon and Sultan Kudarat.
Lamosao said from Barangay Igang Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte, Ocampo’s group was reportedly on their way to Maku, Compostela Valley province, when they stopped at a checkpoint.
He said that aside from Ocampo who is currently Bayan Muna president and Castro, the administrator of Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center identified as Miggy Nolasco, other staff members of ACT Party-list group, pastors of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Davao and other personalities were also present.
Angry tribal leaders
Meanwhile, angry tribal leaders and residents from the municipality condemned Ocampo’s group and stormed the PNP station where the group is located, demanding that Ocampo leave the area and not take their children.
The municipality of Talaingod through its mayor, Basilio A. Libayao already passed a resolution earlier declaring their condemnation of any of the group’s activities and presence in their municipalities.
Likewise, the tribal leaders of the municipality headed by Datu Guibang Apoga, who earlier defected from the group, already made a resolution declaring that they do not want the said Salugpongan schools in their ancestral domain as the schools served as recruitment centers for the Communist New People’s Army Terrorists (CNTs), he revealed.
Both the Indigenous People’s Mandatory Rep. Bae Pilar Libayao and the provincial National Commission of Indigenous People’s made resolutions for the closure of the Salugpongan schools for the same reasons as Datu Apoga mentioned.
Calulot said the 14 minors are now being taken care by the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office of the town.
Meanwhile. Ocampo’s group is currently at the Tlaingod Davao del Norte Municipal Police Station.
Reports added that Ocampo, Castro and 17 others were formally charged Thursday by the Talaingod PNP for violating Republic Act 7610 or “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act” for transporting at 14 minors from Talaingod, Davao del Norte to a still unknown location.