DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The peace advocacy group Exodus for Justice and Peace is calling for the immediate pull-out of military troops staying inside the community in Paquibato District as it has caused fear among residents.
The group presented in a press briefing their peace mission in Barangay Pandaitan where they found soldiers belonging to the 69th IB of the Philippine Army using the barangay hall as post and detachment.
Bishop Modesto Villasanta of the United Church of Christ in the
Philippines (UCCP) and EJP convener said this is endangering the lives of civilians especially children.
“This purposeful and witting act by the military to undermine the local government functions and civilian supremacy and the gross violation of the rights of women and children go beyond what is humane, Christian-like and what is mandated in the International Humanitarian Law (IHL),” Villasanta said.
The group’s peace mission was able to document the 69th IB encamping and using of the second floor of the barangay hall in Pandaitan where a day-care school is using the first floor.
In a video presented during the briefing, the day-care teacher Mutya Acosta said the children are in constant fear due to the presence of the army in the barangay hall. She added that some children do not like to attend classes because they can see uniformed men with high-powered firearms roaming around.
The 69th IB commander Lt. Col. Inocencio Pasaporte told Davao Today that the soldiers are staying in an abandoned barangay building which was offered by the local officials for the conduct of the peace and development outreach program.
This was refuted by Bishop Villasanta, “The 4,200 individuals living in Barangay Pandaitan share this collective suffering and affliction wrought by the Oplan Bayanihan’s peace and development program.”
Villasanta said the EJP will lobby with local and national government agencies and other human rights groups for the pullout of troops in Paquibato District.
Children’s advocacy group Kabiba Alliance for Children’s Rights also urged the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commisson on Human Rights (CHR) and the local government of Davao to support EJP’s call.
During the peace mission, Kabiba hung a streamer at the main gate of the barangay hall to protest the soldiers’s presence in the building. The streamer came from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and invoked Republic Act (RA) 7610, which said “Ang paaralan ay lugar ng kapayapaan. Huwag gamitin bilang command post, barracks, detachment, supply post.” (A school is a place of peace. Do not utilize it as command post, barracks, detachment, supply post).
RA 7610 provides for stronger deterrence and special protection against child abuse, exploitation and discrimination, and for other purposes.
In a statement, Kabiba spokesperson Lovely Caragdao said an estimated 2,800 children are victims of military encampment and violations of the rights of the child. “We must save our children and our children’s school to protect their rights to safety and development”, Caragdao added.
The mission noted Barangay Pandaitan has 702 families or 11,509 individuals with 5,708 of these are children. (Alex D. Lopez/davaotoday.com)