MANILA, Philippines – Five foreigners — four Americans and a Zimbabwean — who joined a fact-finding mission to investigate the killing of eight lumad in Lake Sebu town, South Cotabato were held by police and taken to the Bureau of Immigration office in General Santos City Thursday morning, February 22, on suspicion of being “terrorists with ISIS,” alternative media outfits reported.
The incident drew immediate condemnation from human rights groups, with National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia pointing out that “the existence of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus,” which the police reportedly invoked to detain the foreigners, “do not, by and of themselves, authorize unwarranted searches and arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”
According to reports from the outfits Kilab Multimedia and The Breakaway Media, the more than 50 participants of the fact-finding mission were returning from Lake Sebu when they were stopped at a highway checkpoint in Koronadal City around 8 a.m. where police required them to produce identification.
The police then seized the passports and immigration cards of the five foreigners — American Adam Shaw and Zimbabwean Tawanda Chandiwana of the Methodist Church, and Filipino-American volunteers Julie Jamora, Dinah Anderson and Jamy Drapez — to General Santos, around an hour’s drive away, first to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which then endorsed them to the BI.
The Breakaway Media quoted Shaw as saying: “They kept on saying we are not being detained, but we cannot leave without showing our ID. If we do, we will be arrested and declared undocumented and be deported.”
The American also said they were not shown any legal document to justify why they were being held until close to noon when Inspector Junel Rey Gatera, the checkpoint commander, showed them a copy of the Alien Registration Act of 1950.
Shaw quoted the officer as saying: “We are in martial law. We have suspensions (sic) of habeas corpus, and because of what happened in Marawi and you go to critical area despite AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) warnings, we are suspecting you as terrorists with ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). So the only thing that can clear you is your IDs.”
However, the American said they paid a courtesy call on South Cotabato Vice Governor Vicente de Jesus and Board Member Romulo Solivio on the first day of the February 19-21 mission and no mention was made of any prohibition against going to Sitio Datal Bonglangon, Barangay Ned, where Datu Victor Danyan, leader of the T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization, his sons Victor Jr. and Artemio, and the other victims died on December 3 in what members of their tribes called a massacre but which the military insisted was a clash with the New People’s Army.
“Whether or not there is martial law or the privilege of the writ is suspended, probable cause that an actual crime has just been committed, is being committed, or about to be committed, by the subject person must exist in the first place. Otherwise, anybody performing a legal and legitimate activity must be left alone,” Olalia said in a statement.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the holding of the foreigners showed “the intent of the government to cover-up human rights violations.”
She also cited other incidents of human rights fact-finding missions being harassed or even attacked:
• On February 19, at least 10 members of a fact-finding team, including four foreigners, who were accompanied by Councilor Sammy Dollano of Lianga town, Surigao del Sur and Friends of the Lumad in Caraga chairperson Bishop Modesto Villasanta, were barred from visiting lumad communities to look into the plight of evacuees.
• Last November 29, members of a mission checking on reported abuses in Bayawan, Negros Oriental were shot allegedly by armed retainers of local landlords. Elisa Badayos, provincial coordinator of Karapatan, and peasant activist Eleuterio Moises were killed.
• On November 20, nine farmers who joined a Karapatan-led mission in Nasugbu, Batangas were arrested and detained.