ZAMBOANGA CITY — Security forces held nearly 150 tribal members on their way to a meeting in Sindangan town in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Norte, organizers said.
Nenita Condez, Secretary-General of the indigenous organization called Salabukan Nok G’Taw Subanen or “Nagkaisang Mamamayang Subanen”, said they were worried about the safety and welfare of their members who were intercepted on Monday. She said policemen and soldiers stopped the group while heading to the venue of their meeting in the town.
“We are worried about them. They were being held against their will,” Condez told The Manila Times.
She said security forces were suspecting or accusing natives as either members or supporters of communist armed group New People’s Army (NPA).
She strongly denied the suspicion of the police and military but claimed soldiers were allegedly harassing tribal members.
“We are organizing the meeting to seek support from President Rodrigo Duterte or the provincial and municipal governments to help us by providing aid to our poor members who are mostly farmers affected by recent calamities in the province. We are [in]need of seeds and other agricultural assistance from the government,” Condez said.
She said local governments have failed to assist farmers despite repeated pleas. “We are also asking the government to provide our people the needed medical assistance or even a medical or humanitarian mission,” she said, adding, a medicine donation from Bishop Antonio Ablon, of the Diocese of Pagadian City, was also confiscated by Army soldiers in Sindangan town.
Condez said the medicines, mostly for cough and flu, and vitamins, were intended for children and elderly members of the Subanen tribe. She said their group, which was originally founded in the 1990s, was working for the welfare of the tribal communities in Zamboanga Peninsula.
Ricky Gandoy, one of the members of the group in Sindangan, has appealed to the government to investigate the continued harassment of tribesmen by soldiers. “We are just ordinary and poor farmers, and yet the soldiers are always harassing us, accusing us of being rebels or sympathizers of the NPA which is not true. We need help, we are hungry,” he said in a separate interview.
There was no immediate statement from the police and military about the allegations of the Subanen leaders.