“The government remains blind to everything except the money that it gets from the mining firms – but this money is tainted with our blood; and no amount of money can ever compensate for the loss of our slain tribal leaders who fought for our rights to our own lands.”
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA – In the immediate aftermath of President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to support the call of the military to deploy paramilitary groups in mining areas, leaders and members of indigenous groups have sounded the alarm over the worsening militarization in their communities.
Last October 11, six leading members of the indigenous people’s organization Linundigan in Agusan del Sur went into hiding after feeling extremely threatened by members of paramilitary forces. The six individuals said they have strong reasons to believe that their lives are in danger and that they are targets of a possible attack by the paramilitary group Salakawan (“enforcer of all laws” in the local dialect). Their group has chapters in the villages of Sinakongan, Agsabo, Kinamaybay, Bakingking, Maasin and San Jose, all within the municipality of Esperanza in Agusan del Sur.
Earlier in August, some 23 other individuals from the area, including their families, were also forced to go into hiding because of threats from the paramilitary group.
According to Linundigan, its officials and members are being targeted by Salakawan.
Only last June 30, the group’s director Arpe Belayong and his nephew Solte San-ogan, a 21-year old deaf mute, were killed by elements of Salakawan. Belayong was reportedly killed because of his refusal to sign a document on ancestral domain. His signature was needed so loggers could start operations within their ancestral domain.
Belayong’s children, Michelle Belayong, 14, and Adeb Belayong, four years old, were also injured in the attack, sustaining gunshot wounds in the back. Belayong’s widow Maysee and her children were forced to leave their former home. In a report by human rights group Karapatan, the Salakawan members involved in the attack were armed with a garand M1, M14 and carbine rifles. Seen among them was a man known to be a member of the security detail of Mayor Nida Manpatilan, wife of former Mayor Deo Manpatilan.
Belayong also supported Linundigan’s initiative to build a school run by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in the community. He himself was a member of the Parent-Teacher-Community Organization of their community school in Lawan-Lawan, Las Nieves where he and his family used to live before military operations forced them to leave.
Based on Karapatan’s reports, the former mayor Manpatilan repeatedly warned community leader Datu Man-altuwan’s against their decision to allow the RMP to start a school in Semontanan, saying that the children would be taught anti-government and subversive songs. Manpatilan also reportedly warned the local leaders that should anything happen to the community because of the RMP’s school, the local government unit authorities will not be held responsible and will not intervene. Manpatilan said the local leaders should allow a logging firm to build the school instead.
Despite the threats, RMP was able to build the school.
Paramilitary targets civilians opposed to mining
According to the region-based human rights group Front Line, the attacks, threats and harassment against Linundigan members and their families by the Salakawan paramilitary group are related to their continuing work in defense of community and ancestral land rights. Linundigan is also active in its campaign against government-supported logging and mining operations in the area.
“We have grounds to say that Linundigan is also a target of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) itself and not just paramilitary groups.
In 2003, the AFP and Salakawan forced some 60 families to evacuate.
In 2009, Datu Mampaagi Belavong, an elderly member of the community and Linundigan’s founding chairman was murdered by the Task Force Gantangan, another paramilitary group operating in the area, said Front Line in a statement.
According to another report, Mampaagi was gunned down after he vocally opposed the entry of mining in the Higaonon ancestral domain in Agusan del Sur.
The human rights group called on allies and supporters in the human rights community to back its calls for the conduct of an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the recent threats and harassment against members of Linundigan and their families. It said that investigations should also be done to expose the extrajudicial killing of the two Linundigan officials.
“President Aquino’s approval of the AFP’s proposal to have private companies fund military-organized militias will only increase the culture of violence in the already war-torn Lumad communities in Mindanao,” Front Line said.
Front Line or the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is an international non-government organization exclusively dedicated to the support and protection of human rights defenders. Front Line was founded in 2001, under the leadership of the former officials of the Irish section of Amnesty International.
Residents decry Aquino’s support for AFP militias
Bae Adelfa Belayong, widow of Datu Maampagi and chairperson of Madagway and the widow of Datu Mampaagi, also slammed the president’s support for increasing privately-paid militias in mining areas.
“Arming more civilians – more Lumads – would only encourage these mining companies to increase their exploitative and destructive operations as well as their violations against the rights of indigenous peoples,” Bae Adelfa said.
” Why is there so much violence? Instead of militarizing ancestral domains, the Aquino government should look into the operations of the mining firms and whether they are really welcome in communities. The government should ask residents if they support the mining operations. The government remains blind to everything except the money that it gets from the firms – but this money is tainted with our blood; and no amount of money can ever compensate for the loss of our slain tribal leaders who fought for our rights to our own lands,” she said.
According to Bae Adelfa, mining firms in Agusan de Sur bribe community residents with money and other promises of wealth.
“ And this is the worst impact of these mining operations. We, who have been one in culture and traditions for centuries, are now divided. One group standing for our lands, the other for money and power, willing to kill their own kin,” she said, referring to the fact that paramilitary groups recruit indigenous peoples and send them to attack communities who resist mining operations.
Bae Adelfa said residents and environment al groups in Agusan del Sur are staunchly opposed to proposals to lifting of the mining permit moratorium in the region. She said lifting the ban will serve as a go signal for more military operations against communities of indigenous peoples and farmers.
Worsening militarization in Bukidnon
In the meantime, two other organizations of indigenous peoples have also spoken out against worsening militarization in the communities.
Katribu and Kasilo, in San Fernando, Bukidnon affiliated with Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization said the military is escalating operations against indigenous peoples.
They said the AFP recently bombed the mountain of Butay near the Pantaron Range where there are many civilian residents in the villages of Bunacao, Namnam and Magkalungay. The military has also reportedly closed off areas in the range, causing residents innumerable difficulties in sustaining their economic activities.
Katribu and Kasilo said the military is behind many human rights violations in their communities in Bukidnon.
“Residents are forbidden to join political rallies. The military, together with Mayor Laurencia S. Edma organized the Triom Force, which is being used to monitor the tribal leaders and spread fear among the villagers,” they said.
According to the two groups, the Triom is led by a certain Angi Dal-anay who also goes by the alias “Commander Taruk”, and by a certain Urot Dal-anay who also goes by the alias Bongkabong. The two are allegedly behind the October 11 killing of Jimmy Arion, a former barangay captain of Kibungkog. Arion was said to be vocal against the Triom and its activities. The Triom is also allegedly responsible for the murder of Nicomedes de la Peña, Sr. and Nicomedes de la Peña, Jr., farmers from Barangay Mabuhay, last April 27, 2011.
Katribu and Kasilo also cited other alleged victims of the Triom group: Ruben Gatong, a youth from Kibungkog who refused to join Triom; and Itik Awisan, a resident of Namnam. The Triom group reportedly admitted responsibility for Awisan’s murder in the radio program Impronto in DXDB Radyo Bandillo.
Members of the paramilitary group were also accused of illegally confiscating the cellular phones of Kasilo and Katribu members Tata Oda, Annie Repdos, Toto Borres and Rolly Tumbalang to prevent them from organizing villagers and joining rallies. They threatened to kill those who will not support their group.
“The military also holds community meetings in the villages where they show films depicting peaceful protest actions . The military say these democratic protests are led by the Communist Party of the Philippines when they’re not. AFP and paramilitary forces continue to make the rounds in the communities, recruiting members and threatening residents against joining rallies. They list the names of residents and force them to declare personal information,” Kasilo and Katribu said.
The two groups also decried how the AFP built a detachment in Namnam village where the military has since stored various weapons. Armored tanks have also been reportedly stationed right in front of the local elementary school.
“We demand that the AFP stop terrorizing and threatening our communities and for the Aquino government to stop the militarization of our villages. Their accusations against us and our leaders are baseless. We do not want military detachments to be constructed in or near our communities. We want the Triom Force to be disarmed and disbanded, and their leaders and members punished for the violence and killings they have committed,” they said.