Mercy mission claims harassment

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:42:00 10/26/2008

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Members of an inter-faith humanitarian mission, composed of legislators and representatives of non-government organizations, on Saturday charged the military of trying to stop them from visiting conflict-affected communities in Mindanao.

The military denied the charge, saying the group was only routinely questioned at a checkpoint and warned that they were entering a risk area.

But Amirah Lidasan, national chair of Suara Bangsamoro and Kalinaw Mindanao, said soldiers belonging to the 64th Infantry Battalion pointed their guns at them and tried to intimidate them at a checkpoint in Barangay Pagatin in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Lidasan said her group, which included Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan and former Bayan Muna Rep. Joel Virador, were visiting civilians displaced by military operations against Moro rebel leader Ameril Ombra Kato in Maguindanao and North Cotabato from Oct. 21 to 24.

“We were treated like the enemy,” she said in a radio interview on Saturday.

“They were trigger-ready, some pointed their guns at us and they were disrespectful,” Lidasan said.

She said that when they told the soldiers that they were members of NGOs who wanted to see the situation of the refugees and abandoned communities, “they did not want us to proceed.”

Lidasan also said the soldiers wanted to confiscate their video and still cameras.

Ilagan said they were later allowed to visit some areas.

When asked for a response, Col. Marlou Salazar, chief of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, said the soldiers did not bar the humanitarian mission from entering Datu Piang and Datu Saudi Ampatuan towns.

He said it was standard procedure for the military to check those entering conflict areas.

“First, they did not coordinate with us,” said Salazar.

“When we asked them to wait while we were checking road security, it did not mean we prevented them from visiting the areas,” Salazar added. Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao

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