Abra students held by military, says town exec

By Desiree Caluza
Northern Luzon Bureau
Last updated 07:08pm (Mla time) 06/26/2007

BAGUIO CITY — Residents in Tubo, Abra, have accused the military of abducting six teenagers from their town.


Tubo Mayor Wilma Gattud said the four girls in the group were released last week while the two boys were fetched by town elders Monday from a military detachment in Lagangilang town, where they had been kept for 11 days.


Gattud said residents believe the teenagers, aged 15 to 18, were abducted by soldiers along the Bangaan-Buasao-Kili trail on the boundary of Sagada, Mountain Province, and Tubo.


Former Sagada mayor Thomas Killip, presidential assistant for Cordillera affairs, said the soldiers met the teenagers while they were patrolling the mountains and suspected them of being members of the New People’s Army.


Killip said the teenagers came from the Bangaan National High School in Sagada and were returning to Tubo on June 15 when the soldiers took them.


“They probably wanted to enroll in Sagada because of the constant fighting between government troops and communist rebels in Tubo. Unfortunately, when they returned to Kili, they were intercepted,” he said.


“The village of Kili, with the help of the neighboring villages in northern Sagada, organized search teams to locate the missing schoolchildren. Later, they found out that soldiers detained the children at a military camp in Lagangilang. The [soldiers] refused to release the children despite pleas from village residents,” said Simon “Ka Filiw” Naogsan, spokesperson of the underground Cordillera Peoples Democratic Front (CPDF), in a letter sent by email.


Naogsan accused the soldiers of subjecting the youth to “physical and psychological torture.”


But Captain Edmond de los Santos, commander of the 503rd brigade of the Army’s 5th Infantry Division, denied that they abducted the teenagers.


He said they took custody of the children to protect them from being harmed in sporadic clashes between NPA rebels and government soldiers along the mountain trail.


“Nobody was held inside the military camp. The children stayed with [the soldiers] in the mountains for their safety. We got them out of harm’s way,” De los Santos told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, by telephone on Tuesday.


He said the two boys stayed with the soldiers in the mountains of Barangay (village) Baclingayan in Tubo.


Asked why the boys remained in the soldiers’ custody for 11 days, De los Santos said: “The number of days was immaterial. What was important was the intention to keep them safe.”


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