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Tribal teachers in Mindanao seek church sanctuary

MANILA (UCAN): A group of six tribal teachers in the southern Philippines accused soldiers of trying to arrest them and sought sanctuary in a parish church in the province of Surigao del Sur on June 20.
Father Raymond Ambray, head of the social action centre of the Diocese of Tandag, said that soldiers had tried to take the teachers to a military camp. 
“We heard news about human rights workers, teachers and priests being killed because of their advocacies. We do not want another case like that to happen,” the priest said. 
He said Bishop Raul Dael instructed the clergy in the diocese “to provide sanctuary to people and prevent the spread of a culture of violence and intolerance.” 
The teachers, who work for the non-government Tribal Filipino Programme, were holding a parent-teacher meeting at a village school when the soldiers arrived.
The Tandag diocese was instrumental in establishing the tribal Filipino education programme in hinterland villages in the 1970s.
“We were brought to the village hall for questioning after they halted the meeting,” said one teacher, Arle John Enriquez.
He said the teachers were told to stop teaching tribal people. 
“The soldiers insisted we should close our school,” he said. 
The military earlier accused the teachers of being communist rebels who were teaching subversive ideology to students. 
During the meeting, an army official ordered the teachers to be taken to the local military headquarters for questioning.
To avoid interrogation by the military, the teachers contacted the diocese to ask for assistance and protection, Enriquez said.
Military spokesperson, Major Ezra Balagtey, denied the claims.
“Our troops were there to assist the village council and mediate a disagreement between parties,” Balagtey said.
The official said they received a complaint about the teachers and the tribal school, adding that no arrests were made during what was a “peace-building effort.”
Father Ambray, however, pointed out that if there was a misunderstanding among the civilians, the village council could have intervened, not the military.
“The military are not allowed inside the premises of any school. This was a clear act of intimidation,” he said.

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