By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – “No one would fight for our rights but us,” said Eufemia Cullamat, 54, a Manobo and one of the 300 Lakbayanis from Mindanao who traveled to Manila calling out for justice.
A tribal leader, Eufemia said that although she had been directly spared, her loved ones have become victims of human rights violations. This has pushed her harder to lead the Manobo communities to defend their rights and their lands.
Her son Jaceson, 21, was arrested and was jailed for “trumped up charges” since Feb. 2012.
“I was in another town gathering signatures for our petition against mining when someone called me and said that Jaceson was arrested,” she said.
Eufemia said her son was on his way to the town center when a paramilitary accosted him, saying that he was being summoned by the commanding officer of the detachment.”
The next day, Jaceson was turned over to the police and charged with trumped up-charges of murder and frustrated murder, malicious mischief and illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Up to now, he is still in jail.
Her husband was also beaten up by the police three times in different instances. “One time he was forced to undress and was beaten up.” Due to trauma and depression, Eufemia said her husband has become emotionally unstable.
Eufemia said that since the 1980s, they have repeatedly evacuated from their community in Lianga, Surigao del Sur due to bombing.
“In 1984, after the indigenous people kicked out the Benguet Mining Corporation (BMC) in Surigao, military troops came and the atrocities began,” Eufemia told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
Since then, she said, several human rights violations perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been committed against the indigenous people.
“People, especially women were frightened, many were afraid to go out of their houses after they saw people getting killed, tortured or harassed.” She said soldiers told them that they were looking for members of the New People’s Army (NPA), but actually targeted civilians.
Their situation is still the same. “Nothing has changed up to now,” said Eufemia.
Development for the people
In 1990s, when they evacuated, Monsignor Ireneo Amantillo, of the Tandag Pastoral Center where they stayed for two months, said during his mass: “You should unite because no one would respect you and help you if you are not united in fighting.” It was then that they met people from the Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur (Trifpss).
Eufemia said Trifpss conducted a literacy and numeracy program in their community. “When we went back to our village, three staff of Trifpss came with us. They organized other indigenous people and were able to build primary schools for their children.”
“We were able to organize nine communities, and in those communities we were also able to build schools.”
When they held an assembly of indigenous people in 1996, a leader was killed. “It was then that we formed Mapasu, of which I became council member and my older brother Jalandoni became chairman.”
Mapasu, or the Malahutayong Pakigbigsog alang sa Sumusunod (Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation) unites some 30 Lumad communities in the province.
She said the formation of Mapasu with the help of Trifpss, was a great help to the indigenous people.
“The Trifpss helped provide organization, education, and hygiene to us indigenous peoples. We are grateful to the group and the church for that,” she said. Trifpss also taught them sustainable agriculture.
Later on, the primary schools were expanded into secondary schools.
“We also dreamed that our children reach secondary school. So we passed a resolution, and with the approval of the church, the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) was formed in 2004.” School buildings were built through the help of different international organizations.
But this development in the lives of the Lumad had become the target of the military’s counterinsurgency program. The AFP called the school a “training ground”of the NPA, and subjected its students and teachers to harassment.
Fighting for land
Their land in Surigao del Sur is rich, said Eufemia. Before the BMC operated in 1980s, logging companies has exploited its natural resources. “Our elders were enraged as these companies destroyed our land and the environment.”
The Andap Valley Complex that spans the upland towns of San Miguel, San Agustin, Marihatag, Cagwait, Tago and Lianga, Surigao del Sur, Euphemia said, has rich mineral deposits.
At present, Eufemia has been active in the campaign against the entry of mining corporations in their area.
She said the military are there not because of their mission to wipe out NPA forces, but to protect the interest of the mining companies.
“In a dialogue held on Dec. 3 at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), an official of the Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said the military is there for security purposes. They said it is only natural for businesses to protect their operations,” said Eufemia.
There are 55 battalions deployed in Mindanao, 11 of which are deployed in Caraga region according to Karapatan data.
Whether the violence against her family is a military tactic to demoralize or stop her for her cause, Eufemia was not disheartened.