IMMEDIATE CLOSURE. The Regional Peace and Order Council of Davao Region approves a resolution on Wednesday (January 15) seeking the immediate closure of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Center in Davao City. Davao del Norte Gov. Edwin Jubahib, who moved for the closure, says the Indigenous Peoples inside the center are being used by the communist rebel movement for their own ends. (PNA photo by Che Palicte)

DAVAO CITY -- The Regional Peace and Order Council of Region 11 (RPOC-11) approved a resolution Wednesday seeking the immediate closure of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Center on F. Selga St. here.

UCCP Haran has been serving as the temporary shelter for the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) from various provinces since early 2015.

Currently, Haran's "Bakwit school" houses some 125 families or about 400 Indigenous People (IP) from Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro and Arakan town, North Cotabato.

Davao del Norte Gov. Edwin Jubahib, who moved for Haran's closure, said the IPs inside the facility are being exploited by the communist rebel movement for "various terroristic activities."

Davao Oriental Gov. Nelson Dayanghirang, RPOC-11 chairperson, accused the center of violating the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, as well as of committing child abuse and serious illegal detention offenses while engaging in human trafficking.

"We are urging the concerned agencies to file appropriate charges for we want it to be closed as soon as possible," Dayanghirang said.

Dayanghirang believes that the IPs inside the center are being manipulated and exploited, and that closing the facility would mean freedom for tribe members allegedly being locked inside it.

In an interview on Thursday, however, UCCP Mindanao Bishop Hamuel Teguis denied they are violating any law, insisting that the church property is being used as a sanctuary for the homeless and those who wanted shelter.

“We do not prevent them from going home. Our point is there must be peace, safety guarantees, and food in their communities when they go home,” Teguis added.

Jong Monzon, a tribal leader who is residing inside Haran declined to comment, saying he has yet to a copy of the said resolution.

“We are surprised and shock of the news. I would just like to clarify that the church (UCCP) provides us shelter and helped us in our needs here. We will have a consultation about this issue and later on, we will release our statement,” Monzon added.

Closure preparations

With the proposed closure of the UCCP-Haran Center, various government agencies have outlined assistance for the displaced IPs.

Department of Social Welfare and Development-11 Director Grace Subong said the agency can provide alternative shelter for the evacuees and other social protection mechanisms.

“DSWD has programs in place to address their needs and we assure that we will provide centers to accommodate them,” Subong said.

Brig. Gen. Filmore Escobal, director of Police Regional Office-11 (PRO 11), said he also supports Haran's closure, saying the center has violated various laws.

“I am urging the concerned agencies to help us file complaints against the persons behind this institution,” Escobal said.

Maj. Gen. Jose Faustino, commander of 10th Infantry Division, said they will help transport evacuees back to their communities should their tribal leaders request for it.

Davao de Oro Gov. Jayvee Tyron Uy also assured to provide livelihood and other forms of assistance for the IPs should they decide to return home.

Meanwhile, Jubahib said he has already coordinated with local government units in Davao del Norte to prepare the needed assistance for the evacuees when they return to their villages.

Of the 400 individuals living in the Haran Center, more than 200 are children. (PNA)