UPDATED as of 3 p.m.
DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 April) — A 69-member fact-finding mission documenting the March 4 killing of Baganga village councilor Cristina Jose and the state of the environment in the typhoon-hit areas in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley decried alleged military harassment on Saturday evening, claiming they were “hostaged” in Sitio Cabuyao, Barangay Binondo in Baganga, Davao Oriental.
The military denied the allegations.
“No hostage incident,” Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon told MindaNews Sunday morning.
“A big contingent of 69 participants to a national humanitarian and fact-finding mission is being held hostage in Sitio Kabuyao, Barangay Binondo in Baganga, Davao Oriental. Elements of the 67th IB in Davao Oriental are responsible for causing the delay of the mission,” said a text message from the group on Saturday evening.
It added that soldiers “have been blocking the way of the contingent on April 18, upon entering Sitio Spur Dos, Barangay Ngan (in Compostela Valley, Compostela Valley province), and all throughout the way through the municipality of Cateel… and towards Baganga poblacion.”
The message also said their provisions are “running out,” that “food and water are getting scarce and worst, the (mission members) fear military reprisal.”
“We categorically deny that there is a hostage-taking,” Col. Leonardo Rey Guerrero, commander of the 701st Infantry Brigade told MindaNews in a text message late Saturday night.
“Hosted not hostaged. Hostaged in Cabuyao? There are stranded in Cabuyao after being abandoned by their driver. There is already a rescue effort by 67th IB,” Guerrero said.
He said there was no harassment in Spur Dos, either. “They were stopped for inspection at a Comelec checkpoint in Aliwagwag.”
“We categorically deny that there is hostage taking. They are on their own in that sitio. They did not coordinate their activities with the LGU (local government unit). Now they are asking for help of the LGU and military are finding ways to assist them from being stranded, not hostaged. Instead, they will be hosted by LGU and military as we are preparing vehicles to pick them up,” Guerrero said.
Malou Tiangco, a member of the National Fact-Finding Mission and Solidarity Mission (NFFSM or FFM), who sent the group’s text message to MindaNews Saturday night, followed it up with another message: “We are here at Sitio Cabuyao. We are held hostage…. We don’t have food and water,” she said, as she urged Governor Corazon Malanyaon to “rescue mission team.”
The FFM, organized by Balsa Mindanao and Barog Katawhan, left Davao City Thursday and was expected to return Sunday or Monday.
Malanyaon, who described the sitio as “the farthest barangay,” told MindaNews in a telephone interview Sunday morning that she has not received any report on a hostage-taking. “I checked with barangay officials. Wala man” (there’s none).
She said Tiangco got in touch with her between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and informed her they were “stranded” in Cabuyao, a village in the hinterlands about three hours travel from Baganga poblacion.
The provincial government, she said, did not know a fact-finding mission was in the area because there was no coordination with them. She said Tiangco passed on the phone to Francis Morales, Executive Director at Balsa Mindanao.
“Hindi man nila sinabi na na-hostage sila” (They did not say they were hostaged), Malanyaon said.
The governor said Morales and Tiangco told her about the alleged harassments. She said she told them she would have these investigated but concerned with their “safety and convenience,” she offered to send vehicles to fetch them and bring them to Baganga poblacion on Saturday night. But Malanyaon said Morales and Tiangco told her the team would just spend the night in the community.
Malanyaon told MindaNews Sunday morning that she had been trying to get in touch with Tiangco since around 6 a.m. Sunday to discuss the arrangements on how to get them out of Cabuyao but Tiangco could not be reached.
At 10 a.m. Malanyaon said she still could not get in touch with Tiangco.
MindaNews had been trying to reach Tiangco Saturday night and Sunday morning but she could not be reached. Somebody answered the text message at 11:10 a.m. Sunday but said Tiangco “is on meeting pa.”
The Quezon City-based Promotion of Church People’s Response in a statement e-mailed Saturday evening quoting FFM member Deaconess Norma Dollaga of Kapatiran Simbahan para sa Bayan (Kasimbayan) said they had been expecting the vehicles mid-afternoon in Sitio Cabuyao and that soldiers “have been blocking the way of the contingent since the first day of the NFFSM last April 18.”
The PCPR statement, signed by Secretary General Nardy Sabino, quoted Sister Nina Achacoso, MSM, as saying, “we are trap(ped) because military paralyzed all means of our transportation. Please share this information and pray for our safety here.”
The statement noted that as of 7 p.m. Saturday, the mission members were “seeking the help of locals for water and shelter as darkness now engulfed their journey posing impending danger to the team.”
According to the PCPR, the NFFSM, composed of “churchpeople, environmental activists, human rights advocates and concerned individuals” is “now derailed from concluding their mission as all means of transportation which also contained necessary food and water supplies for the team are put on a halt by numerous military check points and road mishaps. Road blocks such as logs and barriers caused the long delay of vehicles that would bring the members of the NFFSM back to the city for the last leg of their itinerary.”
It said the NFFSM was conducted to “primarily document the extra-judicial killing of Kagawad Cristina Jose, a local leader of the typhoon Pablo survivors, to gather information on the corruption and militarization of humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation funds, and the extent of environmental plunder involving the local government officials, military officers and companies.”
On Sunday morning, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) issued an alert that “five journalists covering a fact finding mission by an organization of Typhoon Pablo survivors in Baganga, Davao Oriental reported to colleagues that the group led by Barog Katawhan has been stranded after alleged harrassment by military elements.”
“Macky Macaspac of the alternative media outfit Pinoy Weekly and Marilou Tuburan of Davao Today reported last night (Apr. 20) that they are among the 69 participants of the fact finding mission still unable to leave Sitio Cabuyao, Barangay Binondo, Baganga, Davao Oriental,” the NUJP alert, issued by JB Deveza of the Mindanao Media Safety Office, said.
The alert said Macaspac and Tuburan were with two others from Kilab Multimedia and a columnist of SunStar whose names were not mentioned.
The NUJP quoted a report of Pinoy Weekly that “although there was no direct harm inflicted against the participants, the military reportedly threatened the drivers of vehicles rented for the FFM, causing them to flee from the area and leaving the participants stranded through the night.”
Deveza said they were “initially told military elements encamped about an hour’s walk from the village where the FFM is being conducted are allegedly blocking the road leading to Baganga.”
The NUJP alert said Ronalyn Olea of the online Bulatlat said they received a text message from one of the organizers of the mission that military agents were barring the group from leaving the area.
Lt. Col. Krishnamurti Mortela, chief of the 67th Infantry Battalion denied allegations that soldiers threatened the FFM’s drivers and blocked the road leading to Baganga. He said soldiers did not bar the group from leaving the area.
Mortela told MindaNews that he had prepared military trucks to fetch the FFM members as early as 5 a.m. Sunday but former Bayan Muna Rep. Joel Virador, he said, turned down the military’s offer.
Mortela said the FFM may have been fetched by Virador. Virador could not be reached by phone as of 3 p.m.
Also as of 3 p.m., Tiangco has yet to reply if the FFM delegation has left Sitio Cabuyao. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)