By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BALBALAN, Kalinga — Delegates to the Cordillera Day were held and harassed by police and army soldiers yesterday, April 23 along the road at Barangay Balantoy, here in Kalinga.
The police and army officers flagged down the convoy of 12 jeepneys and a minibus saying it was part of their job at ensuring peace and security.
The ‘peace keeping officers’ held the vehicles that obviously was ferrying the Ifugao delegation to the venue for the Cordillera Day activities, and illegally searched the personal belongings of Brandon Lee of the Ifugao Peasant Movement.
Lee said the soldiers were at first looking for Kennedy Bangibang, the NDFP peace panel consultant for Cordillera and national minority affairs.
Lee said when they did not find Bangibang on the bus, an army officer named Lt. Julius Ian Daclag asked for his ID. Daclag got off the bus after seeing his ID. A police officer came in after and asked him to step down the bus and follow him. The police officer also asked if they could search his belongings.
Lee refused to leave the bus and asked for a search warrant. The police officer showed him a text message ordering them to hold the minibus and look for Fernando Alikes, Ka Sarah and him when he was asked for a search warrant.
“All the description of me in the text message, from my hair to my beard and six pocket pants were correct except for the color of my shoes,” Lee said.
Lee suspects that the harassment is connected to a confrontation with a suspected state intelligence personnel he had before they left Lagawe for Cordillera Day early morning that day. He said he had asked the agent
to stop taking photos of the Ifugao delegation who had just finished a send off prayer.
Lee said the soldiers were in full battle gear flaunting their fire arms when they entered the bus terrorizing the minors and women who were part of the delegation.
The delegation was allowed to go through after Lee showed the contents of his bag under protest. “We were already held for nearly an hour and it was already late in the evening, so I showed them the contents of my bag against my will just so we could get through,” he said.
But the police and soldiers were not contented they asked me to empty my bag.
In 2015, Lee was among the IPM organizers who were heavily surveiled and who received several death threats from suspected state security forces.
Meantime, Imelda Tabiando of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) in an interview condemned the harassment and illegal search saying that the checkpoint in itself is a violation of human rights and International Humanitarian Law.
The state security forces do not have any legal basis to conduct checkpoint and search for a civilian activity such as Cordillera Day. They even claimed to be searching for armed combatants among the civilian delegation. Tabiando, however, commended the delegation for persisting and asserting their rights.
Windel Bolinget of the Cordillera People’ Alliance also condemned the checkpoint and harassment saying that for the past 33 years state security forces have not failed at attempting to disrupt and at harassing the Cordillera Day participants.
“We have persisted for 33 years and we will continue to assert our rights and defend our homeland following the shining example of our ancestors,” Bolinget said.
Bolinget said that the continuing militarization of Balbalan town is among the reasons why Cordillera Day 2017 is held here. Cong. Carlos Zarate of Anakpawis Partylist was also among those present in the convoy. # Kimberlie Ngabit-Quitasol