Philippines: Lumads to AFP, NPA: Leave us alone
MANILA, Philippines ó A group claiming to represent 33 lumad (indigenous people) tribes in Mindanao on Friday urged the military and the rebel group New People's Army (NPA) to stop dragging them into their conflict and to respect their human rights and ancestral domain.
Jimid Mansayagan, a datu of the Aromanon Manobo tribe and a member of Lumad Mindanao, said indigenous peoples have suffered because of the clashes and the propaganda war between the armed forces and communist rebels.
"We are being used in a conflict that we do not know about," Mansayagan said in a press conference on Friday in Quezon City.
"We would like to inform the public about our plight. The system of divide and rule is being used not just by the military and the NPA but also by miners and local politicians. We are being treated as give-away's," he added.
Mansayagan said the human rights of lumads are being violated because of the clashes. He said indigenous peoples are being labeled as "NPA member" or "military informant."
"Leave us alone. Do not use us in your (military and rebels) propaganda," he said.
"Both sides are committing abuses. We are not siding with anyone."
Mansayagan lamented that lumads are being manipulated in their own land.
"We are the owner of the house. We have visitors. Now the visitors are acting as if they are the owner of the house," he said.
"First you discriminate against us. Then you destroy us without killing us."
Fr. Albert Alejo, a Jesuit priest who advocates lumad rights, confirmed that indigenous peoples have been recruited by both the NPA and the military as combatants. He said lumads are being tapped as combatants because of their knowledge of the terrain.
"We should just let their culture and political structure flourish. The military and the NPA should not kill or recruit them."
Despite allegations that soldiers and paramilitary groups are killing lumads as part of the anti-insurgency drive, Mansayagan is not in favor of calls to pull out government troops in Mindanao.
"Our ancestral domain is part of the Philippine territory so the government has the right to put them there," he said, adding that he has observed positive changes in the military after the Marcos dictatorship.
Activists have accused the armed forces and paramilitary units of killing lumads believed to be sympathizers of the NPA. The military has denied the allegation and claimed that it was the NPA who are executing lumads who supported the government's peace and development programs.
AFP, NPA recruiting 'lumad'-CHR
By Aie Balagtas See / DJ Yap
BOTH the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the communist New People's Army (NPA) are actively recruiting "lumad," or indigenous peoples, for combat, according to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
Both the AFP and the NPA have also been tagged in extrajudicial killings of members of the indigenous peoples (IP) communities in Mindanao since 2001, the human rights body said on Monday in its strongest condemnation yet of the attacks on lumad settlements.
The CHR issued the statement as hundreds of lumad from Mindanao took their protests back to the city of Manila on Monday in hopes that government agencies close to Liwasang Bonifacio would finally see their plight.
They left the comforts of the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, where they had camped out starting in October.
"If you want to see what our situation is like in Mindanao, come visit us here (Liwasang Bonifacio)," said Jomorito Goaynon, chair of Kalumbay, a regional lumad organization in Northern Mindanao.
He said about 700 members of lumad organizations from five different regions in Mindanao will stay in Manila until Nov. 22.
The CHR statement was a categorical acknowledgement of the military's role in the bloodshed that has displaced hundreds of indigenous folk from their homes and their ancestral domains. In the past, the CHR generally used equivocal language to describe the military's involvement in the violence in those parts.
But the CHR, chaired by Jose Luis Martin Gascon, took no sides in the simmering propaganda and turf war between the AFP and the NPA in Mindanao's lumad communities, implying that both were essentially to blame.
The CHR cited 35 cases of extrajudicial killings from 2001 to September 2015 involving 59 members of IP communities in Mindanao.
"Of these, 10 cases were allegedly perpetrated by the AFP, while eight cases were attributed to the NPA," the CHR said. "Thus, neither side can claim to have the moral high ground to attribute excesses on the other."
Days after hundreds of lumad refugees traveled to Manila and gathered on the UP campus in Quezon City to call attention to their plight, the CHR directly asked the government to uphold the rights of all indigenous folk and to stop all perpetrators of human rights abuses targeting them.
In the statement, the CHR asked the government to protect the rights of the lumad to self-determination, and to stop attacking their ranks and exploiting them for "partisan political agenda."
The CHR said it was committed to ensuring the "fulfillment of all human rights on the basis of equality and nondiscrimination, in particular for the marginalized and vulnerable."
"The CHR condemns in the strongest possible terms the violence and gruesome killings of members of the lumad community. The fundamental right to life is non-derogable: Any violation thereof can never be justified by the identity, affiliation or ideology of the perpetrator/s," it said.
The extrajudicial killings in the lumad communities have had a "cross-cutting effect," according to the human rights body.
"The killing of Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, and of Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo, allegedly at the hands of elements affiliated with the AFP, are not only gross human rights violations by themselves, but also derogate the right of the local community to receive culturally appropriate education," the CHR said.
Likewise, it said the grisly execution of Loreto Mayor Dario Otaza and his son by the NPA violated not only their right to life but also their right to hold contrary political beliefs, particularly in relation to their advocacy of convincing NPA members to "go back to mainstream society," for which he was punished.
Food basket, gold deposits
The CHR also said it wished to clarify a number of issues "with the end view of contributing toward their resolution and the attainment of genuine social justice for the lumad."
It acknowledged that:
Mindanao is not only a food basket, but also holds the country's biggest deposit of gold, nickel and copper found in select areas, such as Davao, Agusan del Sur and especially Surigao.
These mineral deposits are mostly found in the ancestral domains of the lumad, ironically among the "poorest of the poor."
Their ancestral domains are slowly being encroached upon by mining companies, characterized by lack of genuine compliance in the exercise of free prior and informed consent, as stipulated in the Indigenous Peoples Republic Act.
Both the AFP and the Communist Party/National Democratic Front/NPA have recruited, and continue to recruit the lumad to their combat.
The CHR also asked the government as the "duty-bearer" and other stakeholders to do the following:
Uphold the right of the lumad to self-determination in all spheresócultural, economic, social and political.
Stop all cases of human rights violations perpetrated against the lumad.
Address issues on the speedy issuance of certificates of ancestral domain titles, and genuine implementation of the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan as concrete steps in recognizing the legitimate struggles and aspirations of the lumad for development and social justice.
Refrain from exploiting the lumad for furtherance of partisan political agenda.
Review and recognize the significant role and contribution of the lumad in Philippine society as natural stewards of the Philippine environment.
Enter into genuine partnership with the lumad in supporting their indigenous practices of attaining peace and resolving conflicts among themselves.
Pursue dialogues, rights and evidence-based processes in finding durable solutions to the concerns of the lumad.
The CHR said it "shall continue to maintain its integrity and independence in the fulfillment of its mandate under the Constitution, as well as its obligations in accordance with the Paris Principles for National Human Rights Institutions."
At Liwasang Bonifacio, lumad leader Goaynon said the protest would include possible investment proposals in the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meetings this month. They will hold it daily until the leaders leave on Nov. 23.
"We all know Apec is about investments and we are afraid the government would offer our lands to these investors," Goaynon said, even as he expressed fear that this would worsen their situation in the provinces as it could further drive them out of ancestral lands.
He said the lumad were particularly against large-scale mining, plantations and the building of water dams.
5 major tents
As rain poured, lumad protesters set up five major tents to represent the five different regions in Mindanao affected by the violence between the NPA and the military. Their food supplies come from various nongovernment organizations and church leaders.
"Our main problem here is the lack of toilets and laundry areas," he said.
Goaynon acknowledged that some of the lumad had opted to join the NPA. He said the lumad were not tolerating the rebels but the lumad organizations had "no right" to stop them.
He reiterated that the lumad were not opposing military operations against the rebels. But they were against soldiers who were living in their communities and forcing them to join paramilitary operations.
"We are not against military operations. We are not asking them to stop. But we don't want them in our communities because innocent lumad often get caught in the crossfire," he said.
Military still denying its obvious hand in lumad killings and displacement; gov't turning a blind eye
By Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa
WHEN all is said and done, the insistence of the military that it does not direct or coddle the paramilitary forces that were responsible for the massive displacement of indigenous peoples (IPs) and the grisly murders of lumad leaders in Mindanao could best be described as blatant lie and obfuscation. This brazen lie and denial have persisted more than one month after the audacious slaughters in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and months after the systematic and continuing harassment of lumad communities and killings perpetrated with impunity by military-backed armed groups.
Despite the army's vehement denials, it is well known in the IP communities and the local governments in several Mindanao provinces - particularly in Regions 10 (Northern Mindanao), 11 (Davao), 12 (Soccsksargen) and 13 (Caraga) - that a number of dreaded civilian armed groups, like the notorious Magahat-Bagani (MB) and Alamara militias, are brainchildren of the military acting as a "force multiplier" for its counterinsurgency campaign. Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel likens the MB, for instance, to a military-created "monster" that the authorities "could no longer control."
Monster or evil incarnate, indeed. For how do we call those who carried out the carnage in the early morning of September 1 in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga town in Surigao del Sur? About 200 residents from several sitios in Diatagon - including children and women as well as students and teachers staying in the dormitories of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) in nearby Sitio Han-ayan - were roused from their sleep and herded by the MB gunmen to a basketball court. There, to their horror, they were forced to watch the brutal execution of tribal leaders Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo for being allegedly New People's Army (NPA) sympathizers. Among the terrified witnesses were Campos' four children.
The MB gunmen also viciously killed Emerito Samarca, a popular educator and executive director of Alcadev inside a classroom in this school that caters to lumad students. His hands and feet were bound, his chest was shot, and his throat was slit from ear to ear. He, too, was branded by the MB as backing the Reds, while Alcadev is being accused as a "training ground" for NPA guerrillas. In fact, Alcadev has reaped many awards, including from the Department of Education itself, for its pioneering and successful literacy and livelihood programs - advocacies that are badly needed in the poor and remote lumad communities. Alcadev and other similar grassroots education institutions are constantly being harassed or threatened with takeover by military teachers or with closure, like the Fr. Tentorio Memorial School in Kitaotao, Bukidnon last Oct. 1.
While the Diatagon killings were going on, government soldiers were seen nearby, which further proves that they either actively support or at least tolerate the MB militia; thus, they should be charged as well with complicity to the triple murders.
The barbaric murders coupled with the warning of the MB gunmen that they will also kill the residents have triggered the mass evacuation of about 2,700 Manobo IPs to Tandag City, where they are staying at the provincial sports complex until now. Likewise, almost 700 lumads, mostly children and women, have fled to Davao City due to heavy military operations in their communities in Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and in San Fernando, Bukidnon. They are being sheltered in a Protestant-run facility since May, and still threatened like the failed attempt of security forces to evict them last July. Aside from the military campaigns that are endangering their life and interrupting their livelihood, the lumads also expressed fear from forced recruitment into paramilitary groups like the Alamara, which, like the MB, was also created by the military.
The seemingly all-out militarization and indiscriminate counterinsurgency campaign - both by the regular military and special police troops and their paramilitary minions, including the Magahat-Bagani and Alamara gunmen - have uprooted about 6,000 lumads in different parts of Mindanao, according to a recent report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
What happened in Lianga and still happening in many IP communities in Mindanao are reminiscent of the martial law and Cold War times, a supposedly bygone era, where constricted black and white worldview prevails - it's either one is an ally or a foe, whether real or imagined. Thus, Red bogey or anticommunist hysteria was widely propagated by rightwing regimes, including the Marcos dictatorship, to justify the crushing of democracy and dissent as well as the hideous human rights violations, and while they emptied the nation's coffers to enrich themselves.
Incidentally, many IP communities are rich with natural resources, including minerals and timber, which would drive mining and logging companies to salivate. In fact, Barangay Diatagon is part of the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley, which, aside from its rich agricultural lands, has been confirmed to contain vast amounts of gold and coal deposits prompting the government to tag Caraga (the region where Surigao del Sur belongs) as the country's "mining capital." By the way, all the murdered lumad leaders were known to be against the mining operations in their areas of big mining firms Nickel Asia and SR Metals whose owners are said to be financial backers of the Aquino administration's presidential bet.
Granting for the sake of argument that some - although certainly not all - of the murdered lumad leaders (the three martyrs from Diatagon as well as in other places in Mindanao) were "communist" supporters, but still it does not warrant their torture and killings, especially since they were unmistakably civilians and clearly noncombatants. Remember that even the actual combatants are still protected by laws of war; how much more the unarmed and helpless civilians, and more so, the innocent ones?
The apparently scorched earth policy or tactics of the military and paramilitary forces are patently unjust and sweeping causing coldblooded tortures and killings, destruction of cherished community lives, padlocking of schools, ripping up of livelihoods, breaking down of indigenous unity in which IPs are pitted against each other, and the displacement of thousands.
The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa is one with the calls to disarm, disband and outlaw all paramilitary units. All their members - as well as their "handlers" in the military, police and the government - who were party to the murders, injury, harassment and displacements of lumads and to other crimes should be promptly brought to justice.
In particular, Executive Order (EO) No. 546 issued in 2006 by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which granted the legal bases for the creation and existence of abusive paramilitary groups and private armies, must immediately be repealed. This was promised by then presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III in 2010 but conveniently forgotten when he got elected.
Sentro also calls for the establishment of permanent and self-sustaining peace zones in the lumad or IP communities scattered in Mindanao as well as in other parts of Luzon and the Visayas. These "first Filipinos" must be given the tranquility, dignity and respect that they rightfully deserve. Thus, all armed groups both from the government and the rebel forces must do their "battles" significantly far from the IP and civilian communities.
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