We consider Davao to be our home base here in the Philippines, it’s where the headquarters of InPeace is, it is the city where we have our orientation, debriefing and recover from the intensity of the immersions. So when our boss sent us a text saying that he had another exposure for us in the city we were hesitant. To be perfectly honest these past two months have been incredibly emotionally exhausting, as well as very enlightening. That being said, we went (along with our fellow GJVs Brad and Robbie who were visiting from Hong Kong) and I was grateful that we did.
The gym that is pictured above is currently the home to hundreds of refugee families who have been forced from their ancestral home by militarization. The New Peoples Army is operating near their lands and therefore the Philippines Army has moved in to “protect the people” which usually ends up in a McCarthy-style Red Hunt. Anyone who is opposing their presence is a communist working for the NPA. Anyone looking to help organize the undereducated indigenous peoples and teach them their rights is a revolutionary spreading dangerous ideas. Anyone who is related to one of the above is assumed to be in the NPA.
This came to a head recently when four young men, two of whom were minors, went to submit their candidacy as youth representatives on the Barangay council in the upcoming November election. They were waylaid by Army officials, tortured and are now being held prisoner on suspicion of murdering the Barangay captain, who was actually killed by the NPA. At this point the people chose to evacuate, which the Army tried to expedite, until outside aid began pouring in.
The PA then became concerned about the exposure of the human rights violations in that community and tried to cut off supplies from reaching the villagers. Many of the children became sick from the close quarters and a group that was allowed to leave in the morning was stopped upon returning with severely needed medical supplies. The Army accused them of being NPA and communists and refused to let them pass. Several NGOs and church organizations had come to help with the relocation process at this point, and they were able to force the Army to let the villagers flee to Davao. The Mayor here has chosen not to be active in the ongoing and inflammatory peace talks and therefore the city is able to be a safe haven for these victims.
NGOs like InPeace are active in giving both immediate aid and organizing the witness testimonies for exposure of these issues. We met many students who are volunteering as security and support along with a large medical team who are donating their precious skills and supplies. I wish that I could say that this is a singular incident, but unfortunately it is all to common here in the Philippines where the military is the number one violator of human rights and the people must flee from their own government.