CHARGES VS. HARAN. Four members of the Indigenous Peoples from Davao del Norte file several charges before the Davao City Prosecutor's Office on Tuesday (September 15, 2020) against the leaders of the New People’s Army  and the administrators and board of directors of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran for exploitation. The tribe members accused the respondents of exploitation,  forced labor, and for using them to benefit the communist rebel movement. (Photo courtesy of Edith Isidro)

DAVAO CITY – Four members of an indigenous peoples (IP) group from Davao del Norte pressed various charges before the City Prosecutor's Office here Tuesday against the leaders of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the administrators and board of directors of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines' (UCCP) Haran Center.

Lawyer Marlon Bosantog, Legal Affairs director of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), said at least 48 personalities connected with the UCCP Haran Center were charged with child abuse, forced labor, trafficking in person, and violation of humanitarian law.

In a press briefing following Tuesday's filing of cases, Bosantog said the four IP complainants are members of the Ata-Manobo tribe who were minors "during the time of the commission of the crimes" allegedly against Haran officials.

The complainants, he said, accused Haran officials of "harboring communist terrorist group (CTG)" and for forcing them against their will "for the purpose of engaging them in armed activities, forced labor, involuntary servitude, using them in armed conflict, and for other exploitative purposes."

Since 2015, the Haran Center located within the UCCP compound along Fr. Selga St. here has been serving as a temporary shelter for displaced IPs from various Davao Region provinces and other parts of Mindanao.

Authorities, however, have accused the center of harboring communist New People's Army combatants and of allegedly serving as a training and recruitment ground for the communist rebel movement.

In January this year, Regional Peace and Order Council-Davao Region (RPOC-Davao) passed a resolution calling for the immediate closure  of Haran, alleging that the facility has exploited displaced IPs for "terroristic activities."

Bosantog repeated the allegation during Tuesday's press briefing with the complainants.

“Haran is the training ground of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front). The IPs were thought how to make bombs, indoctrinated, they were forced to travel and join rallies and deprived of food when they refuse to join,” Bosantog said.

Based on the complaint against Haran, Bosantog said the displaced IPs were "subjected to anti-military and anti-government indoctrination and firearms training."

During the complainants' stay at Haran, he said, they were exposed to squalid living conditions and inadequate food and shelter and were "conditioned to fear for their lives if they leave the facility."

“Respondents treated them like chattels or livestock which they can herd to different places and perform activities at their own bidding. The respondents took advantage of complainants’ vulnerability not only as minors but also as IPs,” he said.

Bosantog said he hopes the charges will lead to "the incarceration of the respondents and the closure of the UCCP Haran. This case will find convictions and we will give justice to the IPs."

He also assured that assistance would be provided to the IPs who are currently staying in Haran should the facility be ordered  closed.

One of the complainants, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said he was recruited by the NPA when he was a minor.

The complainant accused Haran's administrators of failing to fulfill their promise to give him education.

“Help us fight for its (Haran) closureso that no more IPs will experience what we have gone through,” the complainant said in the vernacular.

Following the filing of the charges, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) spokesperson Lorraine Badoy thanked the individuals who helped in the filing of cases against Haran's officials.

“These people that we are putting behind bars are monsters,” Badoy said. (PNA)