Church-Based Groups Back Call for Military Withdrawal From Lumad Communities

Press statement

The Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace together with the Ecumenical Mission for Peace and Development support the demand of the Lumad people in Surigao del Sur for the immediate pull out of the 58th Infantry Battalion from their communities so they can go back to their homes.

“The deployment of military troops in Lianga and San Agustin has disrupted the lives and livelihood of the Lumads. Worse, the soldiers have targeted the existing non-formal schools in the area and have caused the suspension of classes in the tribal schools,” said Girlie Padilla, EMJP deputy secretary general.

A total of 1,795 residents from 15 communities mostly in barangay Diatagon in Lianga and San Agustin towns are currently staying in tents at the Diocese Pastoral Center (PDC) in Tandag, Surigao del Sur. They moved out of their communities in two waves on June 18 and July 18 after the deployment of elements of the 58th IBPA led by Col. Pedralvez supposedly to implement development projects directed to them by the national government.

The people complained about the food blockade imposed by the military who had banned the entry of more than five kilos of rice into the communities. They expressed fear for their lives with the continued presence of the soldiers who forcibly stayed at the civilians’ homes.

“They buy rice and other food items in bulk because their villages are far from the market and transportation cost is high. Five kilos last only a few days. They can’t expect the villagers to go to market everyday,” said Padilla.

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Padilla added that the people were also protesting the recruitment of Lumads into the Task Force Gantangan, a military-led civilian armed group, which they said were meant to destroy the unity of the tribal peoples. The military also branded the local tribal group MAPASU as an NPA front.

“If it’s true that they are there to implement development projects, then they should leave this task to the local government. The people don’t want them in the community,” Padilla echoed a Lumad leader’s statement.

For the past two weeks, the schooling of some 500 students was affected by the military operations. The evacuated areas are the site for six schools of the Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur or TRIFPSS which provides the equivalent of elementary education in formal schools. Another NGO, the ALCADEV provides the equivalent of formal high school education for 126 youths.

In 2005 and 2007, the same communities departed en masse to escape military atrocities. During such time, one Lumad, Jesse Bacasmas was shot dead as he was preparing to board the evacuation truck, and several others were tortured. Children were forced as guides in military operations, and one was even threatened and made to dig his grave. Four others were abducted and remain missing.

“These experiences by the Lumad peoples have made them fear even just an impending military presence, even the mere sight of soldiers. And as the experience of other communities all over the country, military presence in the villages sets the stage for human rights violations. This is the reason for our demand for military pull out from the communities,” Padilla said.

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