Philippine church group condemns attack on tribal sanctuary

Local government's peace council alleges people's rights were violated in the facility
Philippine church group condemns attack on tribal sanctuary

Displaced tribal families prepare to evacuate the sanctuary where they have been staying for years as alleged members of a paramilitary group surround the compound on Jan. 26. (Photo courtesy of Kilab Multimedia)

An ecumenical church group in the Philippines condemned “in the highest terms possible” a reported attack on a Protestant church compound that hosts displaced tribal people in Mindanao.

The Promotion of Church People’s Response said the "blatant show of power" by armed men who entered the church facility last week disrespected the right of tribal people for protection.

Trouble flared at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines compound in Davao City when knife-wielding men tore down a wall at the sanctuary.

Inside the compound were at least 500 tribal people, known as lumad, from neighboring areas who took refuge from what they said was military harassment in their villages.

The knife-wielding men came 10 days after the local peace and order council in Davao City demanded the closure of the church compound. The council alleged that the tribal people's rights were being violated inside the facility.

The church compound, called Haran. has been hosting displaced tribal people from nearby provinces since 1994. Since then, it has become a well-known sanctuary for displaced tribals.

Of the people now residing in the compound, 236 are children and infants, most of whom are students at the center’s bakwit [displaced] school.

"This harassment and intimidation by alleged state agents ... is a direct affront against our Christian mandate of protecting those who are persecuted," read a statement from the Promotion of Church People’s Response.

The group said the rights violations "come at a precarious time" when "even places of safety and refuge such as sanctuaries are under attack."

"Time and again we have seen the government’s hand in this with their ineptness as no charges were filed against the perpetrators," said Father Rolly de Leon, chairman of the church group.

The priest said the attack on the church compound shows "how the government vehemently disregards its responsibility to take care of its people."

"These are abhorrent acts and therefore must be stopped," said Father De Leon.

He said the Promotion of Church People's Response stands with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines "who have been faithful in its commitment in its Christian mandate to protect the least of our sisters and brothers."

The organization lauded the Protestant Church's "firm stance against any laws and resolutions that defile the rights of the people, especially those who are oppressed."

"We will continue to journey with our lumad sisters and brothers who have been fighting for their land and life and their quest for their life, land and self-determination," it added.

The Protestant church denied allegations that its compound in Davao City had violated several laws in relation to its sheltering of tribal people for the past five years.

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