DAVAO CITY, Philippines - The Army's 10th Infantry Division stood firm in its commitment to serve the nation amidst alleged harassment complaints from a nun and three other civilians in Davao Oriental province from members of the environmentalist group Panalipdan, which involved a nun, Sister Stella Matutina, from the Order of Saint Benedictine, and 3 others - Wenceslao Mapa, Maria Fe Matibo and Gil Centenales.
They complained of being arrested, detained and harassed by members of the 67th Infantry Battalion in Cateel town in Davao Oriental.
As per report, armed men were found in the Barangay Hall of Brgy Taytayan, Cateel. The report also mentioned the presence of a Barangay Kagawad from a different municipality and a nun. This scenario heightened the anxiety of concerned citizens in the area leading them to report the situation to the proper authorities.
Lt. Col. Rolando Bautista, a spokesman for the 10th Infantry Division of the Army, strongly denied the allegations of harassment against military personnel.
In a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner, he stated that the soldiers responded to a reliable report from local populace by proceeding to the place where the consolidation of the armed group was reported.
The soldiers were surprised to see Sister Stella Matutina in the said place. She was asked some questions as part of the Standard Operating Procedures of the military and was then turned over to the parish priest of Cateel.
The military has continuously struggled to protect the civilians in rebel-infested areas like Cateel. Upon receiving reports of rebel movements or armed elements, it is their primary duty to investigate and probe into such activities. In this case of Sister Stella, the military is relentless in their position that no form of harassment was inflicted on the nun.
It is only but customary for military personnel to bring high-powered firearms when on operation and to be strong in carrying out their missions without the intention of imposing fear on civilians. Operations like this are done to verify reports of unusual or suspicious activities and not to terrorize the people contrary to what is being claimed by some.
In the case of Sister Stella, the 10ID is evaluating several facts. First point was her presence in the area of Barangay Taytayan, Cateel without proper coordination.
It was even reported that Fr. Nestor Morata, parish priest of Cateel, was dismayed when he found out that Sister Stella Matutina and her environmentalist group conducted a meeting/seminar in the area without coordinating with his office.
Second, during the military operation, Sister Stella was in civilian attire which was the reason why she was not identified and recognized as a nun. The military troop who conducted the operation had to wait until they received confirmation that she was indeed a nun.
In her statement, Sister Stella mentioned that nuns do not wear their habit when sleeping. Looking into this, it is even more dangerous that she slept in a barangay hall rather than in a parish convent where she will be safer.
Another fact is that Sister Stella claims that she was arrested along with three other members of Panalipdan which military officials strongly denied and confirmed by Fr. Morata’s statement, “Tama yung sinabi nung military na hindi nila inaresto ang madre. Tinanong lang nila yung madre then tinurn-over na nila dito sa amin.” Fourth, Sister Stella has only been here in the Philippines for almost two years since her last assignment, which lasted 18 years, was in Europe.
On the other hand, Panalipdan, an environmentalist group whose main advocacy is for environmental awareness and protection, was established only April of last year. These are the reasons that brought Sister Stella and Panalipdan members to Brgy. Taytayan for an information campaign on certain environmental issues despite the danger in these areas.
With the very short time that Sister Stella has stayed in the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao, she has not fully grasped the real threat in these rebel-infested areas.
This could also be true with Panalipdan since as a non-government organization, they have only existed for a while and perhaps, have not experienced or encountered various situations in Mindanao.
They may have known of the environmental threats in the area but in that short span of time, they may have been unaware of the intensity of danger caused by the rebel groups.
Lastly, Panalipdan released a statement that the Army is protecting the large-scale mining companies operating in the area of Davao Oriental. Military officials have reiterated that the presence of military troops in the area is mainly to neutralize the threats of rebel groups.
At the same time, the Army was deputized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to monitor the extortion activities of these lawless groups against mining companies and corporations operating in the area.
The incident in Cateel, along with the alleged harassment complaints against military personnel, prompted the military institution to once again emphasize their obligation to protect the Filipino people at all costs.
The military cannot stop civilians from coming in and out of these rebel-infested areas but they would like to appeal to the general public to make all the necessary coordination with the proper authorities.
Continuous military operations are conducted in these areas and it will be of great help if every person coming in could be monitored along with the activities they engage in.
To ensure the security situation of certain areas in Mindanao, the 10ID cannot risk being lenient especially when civilians’ lives may be put in danger.
Finally, the 10ID takes a firm stand that if indeed their soldiers have violated the human rights of Sister Stella and the three other members of Panalipdan, then, they should file a case and allow the involved members of the Armed Forces to have a fair trial. They will respond to these complaints in the proper forum.