“Isn’t this a sign of the cold-heartedness of our government? Needless to say, the recent forcible evacuation affirmed that even children are not spared from the violence of military operations. “ – Children’s Rehabilitation Center
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Child rights group, Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) strongly condemned the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) over the atrocities and human rights violations victimizing residents of the far-flung communities of Talaingod town, Davao del Norte that resulted in “a massive exodus of Ata-Manobo tribe.”
The Philippine Army’s 68th Infantry Battalion, 60th IB and 4th Special Forces reportedly took over the villages of Talaingod. According to a Davao Today article, 309 families or around 1,350 people have already fled from Talaingod after military took over their villages to seek refuge in Davao City.
According to CRC Southern Mindanao regional office, the military arrived in the sitios of Talaingod on March 4 and continued to pour in since then. The military is accusing the residents of supporting guerillas of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The community members were then subjected to rights violations perpetrated by the military including harassment, threat, intimidation, interrogation, abduction, red-tagging, food blockade, divestment of properties, indiscriminate firing and aerial bombings and forcible evacuation.
Davao Today also reported that Army troops stationed in sitio Nalubas, Palma Gil village held tribal pupils “against their will for an hour.” Residents were used by the soldiers as guides to track the NPAs. The soldiers also reportedly bombed sitio Pangaan and sitio Pongpong in Dagohoy village on March 21. Davao Today also reported Ata-Manobo children were being questioned by soldiers about the whereabouts of NPA guerillas.
“We are saddened by this latest news of massive evacuation concerning our Lumad brothers and sisters from the hinterlands of Talaingod town in Davao del Norte. Over a thousand members of Ata Manobo tribe including women and children were forced to leave their homes and livelihood behind, in order to escape the wrath of the 60th IB’s military operations against the communist insurgents NPA,” said Jacquiline Ruiz, executive director of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC).
Women and children suffering
Ruiz said, “The military encampment and their consequent atrocities are very disquieting. Soldiers continue to wreak havoc and create a gigantic wave of terror among the Lumads, especially on women and children who were constantly afraid, distressed and anxious.”
Ruiz cited the death of a 12-day old infant due to illnesses aggravated by the dismal condition at the evacuation center last April 2. On the other hand, two women gave birth while evacuating and another two-month old pregnant mother had a miscarriage due to fear and stress from the sounds of military gunfire.
With their farms and livelihood left behind, Ruiz explained that the evacuees suffered daily from lack of access to food, water and shelter. “Most of them are sick especially the younger children. In addition, the vicious military presence has affected the psychosocial development of children, rendering them frightened and insecure in their own communities.”
Ruiz said the children and their communities have long been deprived of their right to decent living due to poverty and lack of basic social services and now they are being deprived of their right to live peacefully in their ancestral domain. “Isn’t this a sign of the cold heartedness of our government? Needless to say, the recent forcible evacuation affirmed that even children are not spared from the violence of military operations. The situation further compounded their poverty and highlighted the scarcity of social and welfare services including health and education; and yet Lumad children are the constant victims of massive and aggressive military operations,” Ruiz added.
Fight for ancestral domain
According to an article of Davao Today, what is happening now in Talaingod is a repeat of what had happened 20 years ago when the tribal leaders waged a pangayao or tribal war to defend their ancestral land against the expansion of Alcantara and Sons (Alsons) Industrial Forest Management Agreement (IFMA).
Datu Guibang Apoga, the chieftain of Ata-Manobo tribe formed the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land) in 1993 in defense of their ancestral domain. The Ata-Manobos also fled from Talaingod town because of military operations. (Read special report of Davao Today: The fugitive of Talaingod).
Meanwhile, Rigoberto F. Sanchez, spokesman of Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command of the NPA said in a statement, “The AFP’s mission in Talaingod—their unspoken objective– is to punish Lumad Manobos for having practiced their right to self-determination by prevailing over stage neglect and national oppression.”
“The Lumads were in the process of building their own self-sufficient economy, a thing which the state finds abominable, hence the bombing and other abuses. Lumads are fair game to the 10th Infantry Division-Eastern Mindanao Command’s psychological warfare and inhuman operations.” Sanchez said the Ata-Manobos who were displaced in Talaingod have triumphed over decades of extreme deprivation and state exploitation of their ancestral domain. “They have waged pangayao in the past against the private army, paramilitary (including those who have been coopted by the enemy) and state army to pave the way for corporate logging of Alsons.
They have waged a campaign against landgrabbers, large-scale miners and against reactionary laws and programs that try to subvert their rightful claim over their lands. Vastly neglected by the reactionary government, they nurtured farms, schools, under auspices of their own tribal system of leadership.”
“The state’s use of overwhelming force against the NPA, its display of superior armament and forces in rugged mountainous terrain of guerrilla zones and bases has been proven in history as a failed formula. The enemy attacks a guerrilla force that is not a fixed military target. It drops bombs against empty camps, it attacks in thin air. Failing that, their overwhelming military force takes a cowardly retreat by instilling fear in the minds of the rural populace and innocent civilians,” Sanchez said.
Ruiz meanwhile urged President Benigno S. Aquino III to immediately and appropriately act on the needs of the victims. They also urged for the immediate pull out of the AFP units from the Lumad communities and investigate all cases of human rights violations. “Furthermore, we demand that the government resumes the stalled peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), address the root causes of armed conflict and respect the rights of the Indigenous people to land and to self determination,” she added.