By LYN V. RAMO
MANILA — The national indigenous peoples’ (IP) center Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp) had welcomed initiatives of a Cordillera lawmaker to establish IP help desks in at least three departments. The group said that there was a real need to strengthen efforts to achieve justice for victims of extra-judicial killings, involuntary disappearances, forced evacuation and other human rights violations inflicted against the indigenous populations.
Kamp spokeswoman Piya Malayao commended Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat for making the recommendation on the IP desks. Baguilat participated in two recent national IP gatherings wherein resolutions affirming the rights of indigenous peoplesto their ancestral domain and self-determination were upheld.
“These new help desks should not only be parts of efforts to bring peace or to silence the protests of indigenous people. They should contribute to efforts to attain justice for victims of human rights violations,” he said.
Baguilat, who chairs the House Committee on National Cultural Communities, said in a media statement that the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has recently established IP desks in local government units and agencies to look into rights violations against IPs. He also said that the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the main agency tasked to uphold the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples, has also put together a task force to address the issue of human rights violations against IP leaders.
In the meantime, the Department of National Defense (DND) has also declared its supposed readiness to cooperate with the NCIP in crafting a quick response protocol to aid IP leaders facing death threats and harassment.
Malayao, however, is skeptical of the DND’s efforts.
“The establishment of help desks is one level of addressing the abuses against IPs; but as long as Oplan Bayanihan is in place, attacks against the human rights of IPs will continue. The DND is the main implementor of Oplan Bantay Laya which is obviously patterned after the United States’ own counter-insurgency program,” she said.
Malayao said that many of the 139 victims of extra-judicial killings under the previous Macapagal-Arroyo administration were IPs. The list includes Kamp community leaders.
In the meantime, six IPs have also fallen victim to extra-judicial killings during the first year of Pres. Benigno C. Aquino III. There have also been six documented cases of forced evacuation in Mindanao, and two IP leaders illegally detained and tortured on trumped-up charges.
Malayao also said that earlier in July two more IPs from Northern Mindanao were killed. The victims were relatives of the late Datu Mampaagi, an IP leader who was killed killed in 2009.
In a separate account, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Southern Mindanao Sub-region (RMP-SM) said that last June 30, at around 5:00 am, members of the Wild Dogs, a para-military group created during the Macapagal-Arroyo regime, massacred the family of Arpe Belayong, also known as Datu Lapugotan. Sulte ‘Amang’ San-ogan, a 21 year old deaf-mute was among the victims. Two of Datu Lapugotan’s children, Michelle, 14 years old and Longlong, six, were hit on the legs. The two children and their mother barely escaped with their lives as they ran into the nearby forest and hid there for days.
Suspected to be behind the attack were Laging Binsalan, Tala Mansinugdan, Edik Bat-ongan and a certain ‘Ihag’, members of Wild Dogs.
Datu Lapugotan is the younger brother of Datu Mampaagi who himself was killed by members of Task Force Gantangan, another Lumad armed group created by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 2008. Datu Mampaagi was among the founding members of the Higaonon community organization Linundigan which actively campaigned against extractive operations in their Ancestral Domain, according to RMP-SM. “Linundigan” means “the source of all the good traditions, laws and customs.”
For his part, Baguilat said that he was optimistic that the concerted actions from various government agencies will help address the injustices committed against indigenous leaders struggling for the defense of their ancestral domains against destructive projects and land grabbing.
“With these, indigenous peoples now have more avenues for the redress of their grievances and they don’t to travel all the way to Manila to lobby for their issues,” he said.
Malayao said that it was necessary for the DND, DILG and NCIP to build their credibility and gain the respect and trust of indigenous communities. She said that these same agencies have long been at the forefront of violating IP rights.
“These are the agencies which have long caused the sellout and betrayal of the IPs. These have record of betraying the IPs. They sided with anti-IP corporations and implemented tha various anti-IP economic and political policies of the government,” she said.