DAVAO CITY – Two university professors here claimed they were “tailed” across three provinces by motorcycle-riding men whom they believed to be members of “state security forces”.

Professors Myfel Paluga and Andrea Malaya Ragragio of the University of the Philippines Mindanao said they were in General Santos City doing a “research reconnaissance” and are supposedly going back to Davao City when they noticed a motorcycle-riding man following their vehicle 8 am of July 6.

“We did not immediately notice him because he is a bit far from our vehicle. We decided to go around the city for 2-3 hours to confirm our suspicion and he is indeed still following us,” said Ragragio in a press conference Wednesday.

Ragragio said they initially planned to take the bus to Davao City but decided otherwise.

She said that when they reached Digos City (about two hours away from General Santos City), they decided to enter a mall to “lose” the man.

“We changed our clothes inside the mall but when we got out hours later, we were surprised to see over five men aboard motorcycles looking directly and blatantly at us,” she said.

Ragragio said that the men “have no typical physical features but all of them have a single earpiece on the ear that seemed to be attached to a (short wave) radio.”

“They are like flies. They even blatantly stare us in the eyes. We were so scared we went back to the mall,” she said. “An hour later, we decided to ride the same vehicle again straight to Davao City.”

She said she was “scared of the motorcycles whose passengers rode in tandem.”

“I know several people who have become victims of such pattern of surveillance like Karen (Empeño) and Sherlyn (Cadapan) are now disappeared and several others who were killed,” she said.

Ragragio said only one of the motorcycles followed them to Davao City until they reached a mall where motorcycles are not allowed to the parking area.

“We switched vehicles in the mall and proceeded to a safe place,” she said.

Meanwhile, Paluga said that those involved are “are ordinary people belonging to the lower classes of society who clearly have no idea or have no choice but to follow orders given to them” but he also said that “these are state security forces (military and police).”

“Who else could have been that highly organized as to mobilize such resources to survey us from one province to another to another even here inside Davao City,” he said.

While Paluga said he has no idea on the particular motive of the men, he said “it maybe because of their being open to advocating peoples issues.”

Paluga is the chairperson of UP Mindanao’s Department of Social Science and is involved in various advocacies for indigenous people’s groups and the environment.

Ragrario is an AB Anthropology graduate from UP Diliman and has a master’s degree in Archaeology but has been teaching in UP Mindanao as an instructor in Anthropology. She is also a Davao Today columnist.

Paluga said that he, Ragragio and several members of their research team have been “visible and vocal against policies of the state and state security forces leading to the evacuation of Talaingod Manobos.”

Paluga said he has been doing research on the indigenous people’s group Manobo in Talaingod, Davao del Norte for several years.

Last May, about a thousand Manobos evacuated towards Davao City after alleged threats and intimidation of Philippine Army units amidst an insurgency operation.

It was the second time the Manobos sought refuge in Davao City. In 1995, violence broke as Manobos used tribal baganis, or warriors, to resist the expansion of a logging company.

Paluga said they were one of the first the Manobos contacted when the incident occurred.

“As anthropologists it is the nature of our work that we are in depressed areas. This is not also just disciplinal matters but a calling,” he said.

Paluga also said that “it is very unethical for researchers in the academe to gather and access knowledge from communities, rise in rank and get promoted because of those researches and yet when problems arise in those communities, you don’t go back and respond.”

Paluga said what have been done to them “are also an attack against society who should not live in a world of surveillance and fear”.

But for Ragragio, “they have failed in their aim to scare us to stop we are doing.

Ruth Gamboa, colleagues of Paluga and Ragragio and the president of the All UP Academic Employees Union, said all of society “should thank these professors instead because they have commitment to their work.”

“If suspicions are held against them because of the knowledge they got from their research, they should be confronted but not put to such risks to their life. They should be free to analyze and to question society’s problems,” she said.

In a news report, Lt. Col. Norman Zuniega, chief of the 10th Infantry Division’s Public Affairs Office denied the accusation saying it is not the “policy” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to “target civilians” and that they “have no funds for it.”

Meanwhile, Mary Anne Sapar, spokesperson of Gabriela Southern Mindanao, a militant women’s alliance, also presented to the press conference alleged threats against her person for the second time this year.

Sapar said while the jeepney she rode was traversing barangay Buhangin, a man wearing black a black jacket, cap and sunglasses squeezed himself between her and another passenger.

“He was always looking at electric posts where CCTV (closed circuit television) surveillance cameras are mounted and ducks if he sees one,” said Sapar.

She said that even if there are no other passengers around in the jeepney, the man still refused to budge to make space.

“When we reached Ponciano street, he slowly ducked to avoid the cctv, it was then that I saw he has a 45 caliber handgun tucked in his waist,” she said.

Sapar said “only the military is interested in scaring, threatening and killing us. They are the ones and the Aquino government stands to benefit from our silence.”

Sapar, with three other leaders of progressive groups, filed a police blotter last March after also being tailed by motorcycle-riding men.

Sheena Duazo, spokesperson of militant group Bayan, blames Oplan (insurgecy operation plan) Bayanihan for the  “threats, intimidation and extra-judicial killings of activist and ordinary people advocating the rights of farmers and workers and oppressed sectors.” (davaotoday.com)

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