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Church-run shelter for refugees torched in Mindanao

Victims were members of tribal group displaced by violence

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: February 24, 2016 09:10 AM GMT
Church-run shelter for refugees torched in Mindanao

Members of the women's group Gabriela hold a protest rally in Manila to condemn the attack on a church shelter in Mindanao on Feb. 24. (Photo by Rene Sandajan)

At least five people, including two children, were hurt after unidentified men torched a church-run evacuation center in the southern Philippine city of Davao early Feb. 24.

"At least three men poured gasoline on the tent before lighting it," Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary-general of the tribal group Katribu, told ucanews.com in Manila.

Malayao said some 700 indigenous people, who were displaced by military operations in the hinterlands of Davao del Norte, Bukidnon, and Surigao del Sur provinces, have been staying in the church compound since the middle of last year.

"We condemn this violence against our tribal people and the attack on the church," said Nardy Sabino of the Promotion of Church Peoples Response. 

Sabino said the incident was not only an attack on people, but an attack on the church. 

The temporary shelter for the displaced tribal people stands inside the compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

"We are urging the government to immediately respond to the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice," said Redemptorist Brother Nosi Balgado.

Brother Balgado said the incident was an attempt to harass the church that has been helping the displaced tribal people.

Several legislators immediately issued statements condemning the incident.

"As if the evacuees have not suffered enough, now even their evacuation camp is being targeted," said Rep. Terry Ridon of the Youth Party in Congress. 

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Rep. Isagani Zarate of the Nation First Party said the attack is the result of the government's inaction in resolving the killings of tribal people that has caused the evacuation.

"The arsonists violated the sanctuary provided by the church to a group already forced to flee from their communities by relentless military operations," said Teachers Party Rep. Antonio Tinio.

An "urgent alert" sent by the Save Our Schools Network, an alliance of nongovernmental groups in Mindanao, said an initial investigation by authorities noted that the fire was "intentional."

Controversy erupted in July last year when Rep. Nancy Catamco, head of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples in Congress, attempted to forcibly eject the refugees from the church compound.  

Data from the indigenous peoples' group, Katribu, shows that about 60 tribal people in Mindanao have been killed since 2010 when President Benigno Aquino came to power. Katribu's documentation shows that the killings have intensified in 2015, claiming 15 lives.

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