Police arrest four activists in Maa demolition try

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Police mauled and arrested four youth activists who staged a blockade with residents during a demolition attempt in Bariquit Compound, Purok 13, Bugac in Maa village, an area claimed by landed clan Villa Abrille, where some 28 families live.

On Friday morning, residents in the Bariquit compound, together with youth and urban poor activists, blocked the backhoe equipment that was about to destroy their houses and crops to begin the construction of Le Jardin, a high-end subdivision owned by the Villa Abrilles.

The residents formed a human barricade which arriving police forces from the Talomo Police Station dispersed, seizing four youth activists who were at the frontline and brought them to detention.

The four were identified as Johnny Urbina and Michael Lim of AnakBayan, Wyrlo Enero of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and Joselito Lagon Jr., chairperson of the cultural group Kabataang Artista Para sa Tunay na Kalayaan (Karatula).

“Gidakop mi nila. Ako nagkuha kog video ganiha, gidakop ko nila.   Ingon nila gahapon pa daw ko (They took me as I was taking videos of them.  The police told me that I had been doing this since yesterday),” Lagon told Davao Today in an interview.

Lagon, who have already been staying in Bariquit compound with his fellow youth activists in support of the residents who were keeping watch of an imminent demolition, said the police have already been observing them.

What he said he could not understand about last Friday’s incident was that aside from getting beaten up by the police, they were also electrocuted and held at gunpoint.

“Gigamitan mig kuryente tapos ang uban gitutukan mig pusil M16 bisan nihangyo na si (Lily) Bariquit nga dili na ipadayon ang pagback-hoe kay naay status quo. (They used things that electrocuted us, while also pointing their M16 guns at our companions even if (Lily) Bariquit had already made an appeal to stop the backhoe as there is still a status quo order from the court,)” Lagon said.

Despite the status quo order

The Status Quo order that residents like Bariquit presented to make an appeal to stop the demolition operations stipulates that both parties must take no action on the property as the case is being heard.

Another resident, 71-year-old Marcela Camumot also tried to do this during the demolition attempt the day before but she was ran over by a backhoe that injured her leg.

Demolition attempts were conducted on the strength of a fencing permit issued by the local government.

However, the office that issued the permit, the City Engineer’s Office (CEO) cited that they had no knowledge of the status quo court order.  “We issued the fence permit after the Villa Abrille complied with the needed documents and after inspection in the area was conducted,” Engineer Grace Catubig of the CEO said in an interview.

Catubig also pointed out that the documents included the certified copy of title, which “did not include encumbrances or charges upon property usually fastened with the title if it has cases in court or claims of another party.”

But the City Legal Office through lawyer Marlisa Gallo explained that a court ruling such as a status quo order shall prevail when there is conflict with another issuance, in this case, the fencing permit.

“However, if the fence permit was issued prior to the issuance of the Status Quo order the execution of the permit is legal,” Gallo said.

The 20-hectare lot being claimed by the Villa Abrilles is home to 28 families, some of them have lived for decades now.

Camumot, who have lived in the area for 65 years now, said the Villa Abrilles do not have the right to drive them away because the latter use a certificate of title which, when they checked with the Land Registration Authority, does not exist.

Youth activists like Lagon, stayed by the side of the residents as they resisted attempts of eviction because they believe it was unjust for the residents to be driven away just because “an influential family can show a land title which is questionable in the first place.”

They did not however saw this kind of police action coming that day.

Police brutality

Lagon’s companion Michael Lim narrated how the police manhandled him.

“Ginudnod ko nila sa lupa, didto na ko nila gikulata, gi-aksyon nilag bali akong kamot para maposasan lang, kanang balion jud, unya gisikadan ko tapos akong paa gisikadan pud nila, sa mga pulis (They pinned me to the ground and beat me up, they even tried to break my arm so they can handcuffed me.  They kicked me, and hit me hard in the leg),” Lim told davaotoday.com.

Lim said some of the police men who attacked him did not wear nameplates.

“Gitabangan jud ko nila kay naa man ko sa ilalom sa ilaha.  Wala nako kabalo pila kabuok sila (They ganged up on me.  I could not tell how many they were),” he continued.

Lagon said the police also hit him even if he was already inside the police vehicle.

“Gisumbag-sumbag mi unya ganiha naa mi sa mobile gisumbag ko diri sa wala nga bahin sa akong lawas tapos ang uban, namalikas sa amoa, nagpakita lang gyud sa ilang pagka-arogante  (They continued hitting me even when I was already inside the mobile.  They shouted profanities at me, which only shows their arrogance),” Lagon said.

But the designated ground commander at the site, Talomo Police Station Deputy Commander Chief Inspector Aldrin Juaneza, belied the allegations on his men.  “There was no brutal arrest by our men.  What happened was that we arrested them because they were preventing the backhoe from continuing its fencing.”

Juaneza pointed out that they were only “enforcing the law and restoring order.”

But Lily Bariquit, a resident, said Juaneza himself ordered the assault on them.  “Ilaha gyud ming ginaharass, pareha ganiha si Juaneza na ang nagmando sa mga kauban niya nga pangharason mi (They really harassed us.  Even Juaneza himself gave orders to inflict force on us).”

Also, residents complained of men whose faces were covered and who were taking photos of them.

Davao Today tried to inquire from Inspector Juaneza about these men, but he just quipped, “Perhaps they are paparazzis.”

When prodded further, Inspector Juaneza admitted that the men were intelligence operatives as they were “notified of New People’s Army infiltrating the area.”

“Naa man guy mga report nga duna nay mga sparrow unit nga armado, so amoang gipamonitor ang area tungod kay nasakyan na man gyud ni siya sa mga amigo nato sa pikas (We have received report that there are armed sparrow units [a term used for hit squads by the NPA], that’s why we are monitoring if the area is infiltrated by them because of this tension),” he told Davao Today in an interview.

Juaneza’s allegation angered Camumot.  “Grabe na man sad na sila, murag wala gyud mi kabalo og unsaon pagbarog sa among kaugalingon (That’s the worse reason, as if we do not know how to defend ourselves).”

Meanwhile, the four youths who sustained injuries and wounds during the dispersal are still detained as police have filed charges of “physical injury, malicious mischief, disobedience to persons in authority, physical injury, direct assault and obstruction of justice” against them.

The four were first detained at the Talomo Police Station on Friday.  They have been transferred to the Davao City Police Office in Camp Domingo Leonor since Saturday.

Reverend Jurie Jayme of the Alliance of human rights advocates, Karapatan, said the incident last Friday only shows the brutality of state security agents against the deprived.

What the police did, he said, were clearly, violations of human rights.  He said they will make sure that charges will be filed against the authorities.

“The four activist youths should be freed,” Jayme said, as he urged citizens to rally behind the call for the immediate release of the four. 

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