(UPDATED – 8:15 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines – Army soldiers broke up a youth anti-drug workshop in Montevista town, Compostela Valley province on Saturday and hauled off the volunteer teacher training them and four community members, one of them a minor, the human rights group Karapatan said.
Jay Apiag, secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region, said they are meeting with their lawyers for possible legal action after soldiers of the 25th Infantry Battalion reneged on an earlier promise to release Eugene Laurente, a volunteer teacher from the Assumption College of Davao community outreach program, the 17-year old girl assisting him with the workshop, Amy Kamaso, a male resident of Barangay New Dalaguit, and Darlene Dasig and Gredelix Ornopia, also members of the community.
Apiag led a quick reaction team from Karapatan and the Save our Schools Network that went to the Montevista police station early on Monday to seek the release of the five. The girl’s parents were with them too, he said.
However, only Laurente, the minor and the two women were at the police station. Kamaso remained at the Army camp and Apiad quoted the minor during the brief conversation thy were allowed that he appeared to have been punched during his questioning by the soldiers.
“We waited until 6 p.m. for them to be released,” Apiag said.
However, he said, “after they were made to sign release papers, the soldiers took them and the girl’s parents back to their headquarters. It all happened too fast for us to try to stop them.”
Apiag also scored Montevista chief of police, Senior Inspector Ariel Pascual, for refusing to provide them copies of the police blotter and the release papers, “claiming they no longer gave copies of these even if these are public documents that should be available to all. We have never had problems with other police stations about this.”
The Karapatan official said they were also concerned that authorities “are going to create a scenario and totally twist the situation,” noting that Pascual and the soldiers “claimed that they did not arrest the five but had ‘rescued’ the children.”
However, Apiag said the soldiers who went to New Dalaguit would have taken all the students attending the “Youth Action Anti Drugs Workshop” in Barangay New Dalaguit but relented when the minor asked them to leave here fellow youth alone and take her instead.
During an earlier phone interview from the police station, Apiag told InterAksyon that the soldiers had promised to release the five after they completed a “process” that involved subscribing affidavits before a fiscal.
“We are worried about what the affidavits might say,” he said, noting that similar incidents have been happening all over Mindanao, with members of progressive organizations ending up arrested and facing “trumped up charges.”
Apiag also said it was ironic that the troops had chosen to target a community program that aimed to keep the youth from drugs through cultural training and had nothing to do with activism.
Farmers and lumad organizations in the province are active in causes such as human rights and protecting their ancestral lands from the encroachment of large-scale mining and commercial plantations.