Mindanao people bring their issues to Mendiola

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

They’ve had enough under the Aquino government. People in Mindanao are outraged. Here’s why:

Altogether 55 Philippine Army infantry battalions, backed up by the PNP and paramilitary groups, are now deployed in hinterland communities where the New People’s Army is reported to be strong. Intensified combat operations — in the name of “people-centered peace and development” under the counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan — have ratcheted up violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Extrajudicial killings have risen to 83 since July 2010 (nationwide: 222); 500 leaders and members of people’s organizations are facing military-instigated trumped-up criminal charges.

This year alone, 39 lumad or indigenous communities have been forced to evacuate in 12 instances due to aerial bombing, artillery bombardment, strafing of homes, and harassment of villagers. Their community schools, branded as “NPA schools,” have practically been taken over by the military.

In a resource-rich area, ironically, mass poverty is worsening because of “landgrabbing and systematic land conversion exacerbated by militarization and lumad displacements.”

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, an alliance of Catholic religious congregations in Mindanao, has come right out against what it says is an offensive launched by the government “against people’s organizations in communities actively protecting the people’s interest against large-scale mining, private energy development, and agribusiness ventures.”

The affected communities and their supporters have consistently protested. But they got very little redress, if any; their grievances only mounted.

Thus they have decided to bring their collective protest, for the second time since 2012, to the nation’s capital. Next Monday, several hundreds of community leaders and local activists, including their families, will march from Baclaran to Mendiola to bring their issues to the widest possible national and international audiences and, should he listen, to President Aquino.

The marchers’ journey from Mindanao is called Manilakbayan 2014. Their rallying cry: “Food and Peace for MindaNow!” Their main support organizations are Panalipdan Mindanao (a network of advocates for the patrimony, environment, Moro and lumad rights and welfare) and Kalumaran Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad (an alliance of lumad groups).

Arriving in Baclaran tomorrow, the marchers from Mindanao’s six regions converged in clusters, starting in Davao City and Cagayan de Oro City last Nov. 13. There they held protest actions against the East Mindanao Command in Panacan, Davao and the 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan de Oro.

In the succeeding days, they protested against the 10th ID in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley, and the 401st Infantry Brigade in Agusan del Sur. In Gingoog City they called for the release of all political prisoners, and in Butuan City assailed the regional prosecutor’s office for filing trumped-up charges against their leaders and colleagues.

On Nov. 16, the Manilakbayan 2014 sailed on a boat from Surigao City to San Ricardo, Southern Leyte. They marched via the San Juanico bridge into Calbayog City to the warm welcome of their Eastern Visayas counterparts. The next day they took a boat from Allen, Samar to Matnog, Sorsogon and within the day moved on to the cities of Sorsogon, Legaspi, and Naga, where they had a solidarity night and cultural celebration with their Bicol counterparts, who condemn the 52 EJK incidents in the region.

Received enthusiastically in Southern Tagalog, they joined a protest action at the Southern Luzon Command, now headed by Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, who previously commanded the 10th ID in Mindanao. They denounced Visaya for “taking after his mentor,” retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan (“the Butcher”), now undergoing trial in Bulacan for the 2006 abduction-disappearances of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno.

For the next 16 days (up to Dec. 10), the Manilakbayan participants will join various groups in protest march-rallies in Metro Manila: in Makati against foreign mining corporations; before the US embassy against American troop presence and drones in Mindanao; at the justice department against trumped-up charges; at the Camp Aguinaldo gate against human rights violations and in support of the “Save Our Schools” campaign; and at Mendiola for the International Human Rights Day march-rally.

Until they depart for Mindanao on Dec. 12, they plan to encamp either on the Mendiola bridge or at Liwasang Bonifacio. At Mendiola they’ll set up a symbolic sabsaban (manger) with a red lantern above it. Hopefully, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada will allow them to do so.

Manilakbayan 2014 defines its objectives thus:

• Actively defend communities that Oplan Bayanihan tries to destroy amid the incursions of large-scale mining and agro-industrial undertakings in Mindanao;

• Fight in defense of the lumad’s achievements in literacy through their schools, sustainable agricultural production, preservation and development of indigenous culture, and assertion of their basic and comprehensive human rights; and

• Take an offensive position to resist the systematic erosion of these grassroots achievements through Oplan Bayanihan.

These are warnings to the AFP that, like all the preceding counterinsurgency plans, the current one will likewise fail through its foolhardy and brutal implementation. It will go to naught, much like the master plan it copied — the US Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009, applied in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead of “winning hearts and minds,” Oplan Bayanihan has fomented enmity and rejection. And instead of instilling fear and submission, it has engendered stiff resistance and vigorous struggle.

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
Published in The Philippine Star
November 22, 2014

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