The Assert Socio Economic Initiatives Network of the Philippines (AscentPH) vehemently condemns the illegal arrest of a field worker from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region (RMP-NMR), Julito Rivera Otacan, and five other Banwaon community members – Alejandro Barluado, Jonas Acosta, Noli Tahudan, Marlon Talatayod, and Joel Trasona. They were arrested on the morning of October 27, 2017 in Barangay Balit, San Luis, Agusan del Sur.
Military soldiers went into the house of Otacan at around 6:00am that day and took him to the barangay covered court where he, together with the 5 others, were detained. The military allegedly found grenades, firearms, and other such equipment in their houses.
Two 6×6 army trucks, a war tank, two patrol cars, and two white vans of armed state forces had been deployed in the community during their arrest. In response, community members encircled the covered court to ensure the safety of their fellow Banwaons. However, they were not allowed to go near the detainees.
Tahudan was then brought to the headquarters of the 26th Infantry Battalion in Poblacion, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur, while the rest were brought to the Police Station in Rubako, San Luis, Agusan del Sur.
Since the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, military personnel have been going to Otacan’s house, searching for him.
Otacan is a field worker under the ‘Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Human Rights in the Philippines’, a project funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the RMP-NMR and Relief International. He was tasked to organize and facilitate the training of community members in their capacity as Human Rights Defenders.
The five other Banwaons arrested are all members of the Banwaon Peoples’ Organization, Tagdumahan. It has long been targeted by the military because of the members’ vocal assertion of their rights to their ancestral domain targeted by logging and mining companies.
AscentPH denounces the relentless attacks and harassment perpetrated by military elements against the Lumad. The declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao has only resulted to numerous human rights violations being committed by state agents against the people. It must therefore be lifted immediately in order to put a stop to the escalating violence in the island.