Mindanao protesters held by security forces

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MANILA, Philippines — Soldiers held more than 200 lumad from the town of San Miguel, Surigao del Sur on their way to the provincial capital Tandag City to join protests Thursday marking the 45th anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial law and what critics see as the increasingly brutal rule of President Rodrigo Duterte.

In Davao City, troops of Task Force Davao also prevented farmers and workers from Davao del Sur province from entering the city to join the demonstration in Duterte’s hometown, according to activist leader Sheena Duazo.

In the Surigao del Sur incident, Myrna Belandres, chairwoman of the lumad organization Maluhutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sumusunod or MAPASU, told InterAksyon by phone the convoy from San Miguel was flagged down at a checkpoint manned by Special Forces troops in Sitio Dreamland, Barangay Alba in Tago town around 8 a.m.

Tago is a town just south of Tandag.

“The soldiers questioned them and gave many, sometimes conflicting, reasons why they could not proceed,” Belandres said. “At first, they said the vehicles were overloaded then, later, they said they needed to clarify if they had clearance from their barangay captains.”

Belandres said she and United Church of Christ in the Philippines Bishop Modesto Villasanta, who is with the support group Friends of the Lumad, had to “rescue” the protesters in Tago, negotiating with the soldiers and insisting that they had no authority to stop people from traveling to join Tuesday’s protests, which are being held nationwide.

In fact, she said, “the contingent from one community was about to give up and go home but we persuaded them to remain because we would make sure they would proceed.”

The bulk of the protesters were finally allowed to continue on their way around 10:30 a.m., she said, “because the soldiers would not allow one (truck) to proceed.”

The remaining lumad were finally fetched by vehicles from Tandag around 12:30 a.m.