CHR’s de Lima to Personally Lead Probe of Military Abuses Vs Lumads in Surigao

MANILA — Amid reports of human-rights violations in Lumad communities in Mindanao, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila De Lima will personally lead a fact-finding mission this weekend in Surigao del Sur.

The mission is in response to a resolution approved by the provincial government of Surigao del Sur asking the CHR to look into the alleged abuses by the military. Leaders and representatives of the affected indigenous peoples communities and human-rights groups also sought the CHR’s help.

According to Lumad and human-rights groups, more than 1,700 people, mostly indigenous peoples from the Manobo tribe in Surigao del Sur, have been displaced by massive military operations conducted by the 58th and 401st Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army.

The CHR’s office in the Caraga region reported that many of the evacuees are crammed into small spaces at the Diocesan Pastoral Center of Tandag, also in Surigao del Sur. In the municipality of Lianga, the CHR received reports that members of the military forced civilians to join paramilitary units, which were engaged in combat with communist rebels in the area. In some cases, the Lumads are being labeled as New People’s Army (NPA) rebels themselves, or supporters and sympathizers. A food blockade has also been imposed by the military.

De Lima said the allegations are “serious and require further investigation” because they run contrary to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID), and violate human rights as well as international humanitarian law. The UNGPID specifically enjoins competent authorities to provide internal refugees with, and ensure safe access to, basic necessities. It vests on national authorities the primary duty and responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance.

In a letter dated Aug. 19, the CHR urged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to take action in the alleviation of the humanitarian situation faced by these internally displaced persons. It also sought the enactment of government measures aimed at making the human rights of the evacuees a reality on the ground.

“The alarming ordeal of the Manobo evacuees in Surigao emphasizes the need to limit the adverse effect of the armed conflict in Mindanao on civilians, particularly indigenous peoples,” de Lima said. “While there is a need to put an end to insurgency, this must not be done at the expense of those who are merely caught in between.”

The CHR said its mission to Surigao del Sur is in line with its constitutional mandate to protect and promote human rights, as well as with its duty to monitor government’s compliance with its obligations under international human rights law and humanitarian law.

Recently, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern about the effects of the clashes between the Philippine military and the New People’s Army on indigenous people and evacuees, among other issues. In its report to the committee, the CHR, through Commissioner Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing, revealed that many of those who have been displaced by the fighting come from indigenous tribes.

Meanwhile, a national support network for the evacuees of Surigao del Sur dubbed as Task Force Surigao will hold a parallel solidarity mission to Tandag, Carrascal and Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Led by Gabriela Women’s Party List Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, Karapatan chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez and Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP or Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines) spokesman Nelson Mallari, the mission will first visit the Manobo evacuees at the Diocese Pastoral Center on August 29.

They will also hold dialogues with the government of Surigao del Sur, military officials and Catholic Bishop Nereo Odchimar. Medical professionals and volunteers will provide medical services to the evacuees.

A part of the team will visit evacuees from Barangay Pantukan, Carrascal who are now at the Adlay gym. In the next two days after that, the team will accompany the Manobo residents back to their community to harvest their crops as well as to retrieve some more of their personal belongings.

The mission aims to help put pressure on the national government to pull out the troops from the area. (Bulatlat.com)

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