DAVAO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – After almost 10 hours of gridlock, militant protesters finally cleared the Davao City Davao-Agusan Highway, opening the road to motorists.
Protesters, led by Pasaka and Save Our School Network, had set up a human barricade in front of the Eastern Mindanao Command Headquarters in Panacan, Davao City starting at 8:30 this morning.
The groups were calling for the withdrawal of the military in their areas, and vowed that the barricade won’t be removed until their demands are met by the national government.
After hours of failed negotiations, the groups finally cleared the road at 6:20 pm, after the national office of the Department of Education asked its regional officer to discuss matters with the protesters.
The barricade caused thousands of angry motorists and passengers to be left stranded on the highway connecting the north- and south-bound vehicles, forcing motorists to take an alternate route via Barangay Cabantian in Buhangin, Davao City.
Davao City Police Office Spokesperson Chief Insp. Milgrace Driz said that the police chief assigned to the area had been negotiating with the protesters to peacefully dismantle their barricade and allow the vehicles to pass through.
City Administrator Melchor Quitain and Kerlan Fanagel of Pasaka talked; Quitain tried to negotiate, but the group refused to clear the road and even told Quitain they wanted to talk with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte, who had left the city for a campaign sortie in the National Capital Region, was able to call the group at about 3:30 pm.
Duterte spoke with Fanagel, which resulted to the opening of one lane of the highway.
At 7:30 pm, the road was opened to traffic.
Driz said most of the 2,000 protesters were peasants, Lumads, and small scale miners from different provinces of Southern Mindanao, coming mostly from as far as Agusan, Davao del Norte, and Davao del Sur.
The protest leaders are the same individuals who went to Manila last year through “Manilakbayan” to call for President Benigno Aquino’s attention on the plight of the Lumads. But they went home empty handed.
They demanded that the government order the pullout of all Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) troops from Lumads and peasant communities; to disallow military encampments in schools and communities; to disband and disarm all paramilitary groups allegedly organized, armed and maintained by the AFP; to allow the safe return of the evacuees to their communities; to rehabilitate and rebuild Lumad schools; to arrest and prosecute all perpetrators of human rights violations; and to stop threats and harassment, among others.
Fanagel told reporters, “There were already several dialogues held between the AFP and other agencies of the government, but they remain blind and deaf towards the demands of the people.”
In a statement, the Eastern Mindanao Command (EMC) said they “welcome and strongly support investigations” on the allegations and that they are willing to provide the needed assistance to investigating bodies “in accordance and adherence to the rule of law”.
“The EMC will continue to be a partner in maintaining and sustaining gains of all our peace and security efforts,” EastMinCom said. – Rappler.com
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