Human-Rights Defenders back Lumads Facing Trumped-Up Charges

March 2, 2010

For how can a lumad farmer, suspected of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), take part in an ambush when he was practically miles away from the ambush site as he was participating in a national farmers’ mobilization in Manila?

Or how can another farmer join the same operation carried out by suspected NPA rebels in Sitio Talaw, Barangay Coronon, Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur against elements of 39th Infantry Battalion when he was in the town proper of Sta. Cruz, attending an activity of Katribu Partylist group?

Barug Katungod Mindanao raised these glaring facts as the seven lumad residents of Davao del Sur filed their counter affidavits in connection with the accusation that they participated in the ambush perpetrated by suspected communist guerrillas against soldiers in Sitio Talaw dawn of January 21.

The seven lumads, two of them health workers, filed their counter affidavits Monday morning before Artemio A. Tajon, the provincial prosecutor of Davao del Sur. All seven denied the allegation and branded it as a case of clear harassment.

Barug Katungod Mindanao, a tri-people human rights defenders project supported by the European Union, said the seven were apparently falsely accused.

“In the Mindanao context, human rights defenders from the lumads, Moro, and the basic sectors are the first targets of human rights violations. The government’s internal security doctrine believes that silencing human rights defenders will make peasant and indigenous communities cower in fear. That is why the military resorts to slapping them with fabricated charges in the hope that locking them up in jail will curtail their advocacies,” Bishop Felixberto Calang, Barug Katungod convenor, said.

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Barug Katungod Mindanao is a consortium of various human rights groups including the Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao, Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran), and Kawagib Moro Human Rights Alliance.

Lino Lumana, chair of the United Farmers of Sta. Cruz (UFASAC), a Kaolo-Bagobo lumad, said he joined thousands of farmers in a 12-day nationwide caravan in Manila when the ambush happened.

The 58-year old Bagobo leader said at the time of the ambush he was marching with the farmers from other regions, on their way to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to call for genuine land reform and to commemorate the Mendiola Massacre.

Another lumad farmer tagged by the 39th IB as involved in the ambush was 52-year old Bagobo Amy “Mel” Elio, chair of the Pasaka Confederation of Lumads in Southern Mindanao. Elio, in his counter-affidavit said, that at the time of the ambush—around 5:00 am—he was at the residence of his friend, Santiago Ang Jr., in Kapihan, Zone III in Sta. Cruz.

“I am certain that I was falsely and maliciously implicated by the military in the said incident to harass me because of my more than two (2) decades of active involvement in the campaign for the rights and welfare of the lumads,” he said.

A veterinarian by profession, Elio said that the motive of the military is as clear as the wind.

“As the present chair of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples in Southern Mindanao, I had several past experiences of having heated arguments with members of the military, particularly in Sta. Cruz, because of abuses they committed against the lumads during the conduct of military operations and the forced recruitment of lumads to join the paramilitary groups for counter-insurgency operations,” he said.

“Again, my said active involvement in the issues of the lumads is the only reason why I am falsely implicated in the instant case. This is clearly part of the systematic campaign by the military to vilify and harass those who are critical of the policies of the government,” he added.

The other accused are Ricardo Elacion, 74, Chair of United Farmers of Sibulan (NAMAS), 74 years old, resident of Barangay Sibulan; Benjie Paldas, a Bagobo-Tagabawa Lumad; and Gina Bernardo, a B’laan-Cebuana, health workers under the Urban Integrated Health Services Foundation.

Also accused are Edgardo Piadapo, Kaolo tribe and member of NAMAS and Pasing Lopez, farmer and member of UFASAC.

Barug Katungod Mindanao said Lopez and Elacion were working on their farms when the ambush occurred. Elacion’s farm is even 13 kilometers away from the ambust site. Paldas and Piadapo were attending a fiesta in Sitio Malusing. Bernaldo was at that time working in Davao City.

The accused lumads are assisted legally by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), and the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao-Women’s Caucus.

BISHOP FELIXBERTO CALANG, Convenor, Barug Katungod Mindanao
TYRONE VELEZ, Media and Information Officer, Barug Katungod Mindanao

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