Militias bar social workers from Davao del Norte town

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A 17-member team of government social workers were barred from entering a village in Kapalong on Thursday, August 31, amid fears they were accompanied by organizations already declared “persona non grata” by the community.

Amadeuz Celestial, 60th Infantry Battalion mediator, said the tribal leaders did not approve people from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) conducting the agency’s one-stop service.

The delegation was supposed to facilitate several anti-poverty programs in Sitio Patil, Barangay Gupitan in Kapalong, a municipality in Davao del Norte about 85 kilometers from Davao City.

“The response of the datus was not quite positive, as we understand they had previous experience when DSWD came with NGOs like PASAKA, Sildap, RNP” Celestial said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Celestial was referring to organizations previously declared persona non grata by a council of Lumad elders in Talaingod. One of them, PASAKA, was tagged an “enemy of the state” for its alleged links with the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Cancelled too were the distribution of 2,500 family food packs under a feeding program, said Celestial.

Meanwhile, Ronald Papag, DSWD’s focal person for the program, pointed out that it was the “Bagani” that actually did not want for the team to proceed.

Bagani forces are lumad warriors allegedly trained to attack symphatizers of the New People’s Army. In 2012, a former member of the notorious private army in Arakan alleged that the military paid a Bagani leader to murder Italian priest Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio.

The DSWD team, according to Papag, had to fly from Manila all the way to Davao, before travelling to Kapalong by land.

It would have been the agency’s fifth time to conduct its one-stop services in Kapalong, where majority of its population belong to the Ata Manobo, Dibabawon, and Mandaya ethnic groups.

The items that were supposed to be distributed will be stored back in the agency’s warehouse in their regional office in Davao City. –