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Church did not imprison people in refuge centre

DAVAO CITY (UCAN): Charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention filed against Pastor Jurie Jaime, two Catholic sisters and a group that gave assistance by providing accommodation to displaced tribal people in Mindanao last year, have been dropped.

“It is a vindication of our support for the legitimacy of the demands raised by the tribal people,” a lawyer, Carlos Isagani Zarate, a prominent human rights advocate and member of the Philippine congress, said.

In joint resolution issued on May 26, the Office of the Ombudsman found insufficient evidence for probable cause against the eight people who were accused of abducting the tribal people in 2015.

A similar case filed before the City Prosecutor’s Office in Davao City was also dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Among the accused were Pastor Jaime, Sister Stella Matutina and Sister Restita Miles from the Rural Missionaries of The Philippines.

They provided accommodation and other assistance to some 700 tribal people who sought shelter at a Church-run evacuation centre in Davao City last year after fleeing their village because of military operations, which had taken over their homes and badly damagedtheir crops.

A complaint was later filed by a tribal woman, Nora Kulot Tacay, alleging that men carrying machetes and sticks prevented her and her daughter from leaving the centre.

Tacay also complained of the difficulties the family had to endure in the evacuation centre.

Other refugees, however, testified that they were only advised not return to their community because of the military operations. 

However, witnesses testified that no one had been forced to stay in the centre.

In its resolution, the Office of the Ombudsman noted that “record shows that they had the option to leave or stay.” Therefore, it was concluded that the alleged crimes were not established.

“Neither was it shown that anyone detained, nor caused, or even ordered the detention of complainants,” the resolution added.

Zarate claimed the charges were instigated by the military, which manipulated the hapless tribal people who were already the victims in the whole saga.

“They are used to filing trumped up charges against supporters of the cause of the indigenous peoples,” he added.

In February this year, gunmen tried to burn the temporary shelter, which stands within the compound of the United Church of Christ in The Philippines.

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