“These latest killings and attack against the teachers, staff, tribal schools and community leaders and members are meant to destroy the unity of the Lumad people who have been strong in resisting the plunder of their ancestral lands within and surrounding the Andap Valley Complex by large-scale mining and plantations being pushed by the Aquino government.”
By BETTINA CATLI
MANILA – Calling President Aquino’s final year as “a bloodbath for indigenous peoples,” Lumad leaders, the religious and other peace advocates demanded the dismantling and disarming of paramilitary groups and the prosecution of those responsible for extrajudicial killings, the most recent of which was in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
In a press conference led by the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu), on Sept. 2, various groups expressed collective anger and indignation over the Sept. 1 killing of Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), and Manobos Dionel Campos, chairperson of the Lumad group Mapasu, and his cousin Bello Sinzo.
Many at the press conference said the killings are reminiscent of the time of President Gloria Arroyo, which was marked by more than 1,000 extrajudicial killings, cases of disappearances and forced evacuations.
Karapatan-Caraga identified the brothers Loloy and Bobby Tejero, members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani Force, as the ones who killed Campos and Sinzo on Sept 1, while Samarca was found dead with torture marks after being detained by the same group. The paramilitary men, along with soldiers of the 36th Infantry Battalion and Special Forces, occupied the grounds of the alternative school Alcadev in Han-ayan, Diatagon village in Lianga.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippine has to answer for having organized and backed up the Magahat-Bagani forces in their rampage,” said the joint statement by Alcadev and the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (Trifpss).
The groups also called for the immediate withdrawal of soldiers in the communities.
“Aquino’s last year is bloodbath for the indigenous peoples. In the last eight months, there have been 13 Lumads killed, four massacres, and more than 4,000 evacuees from communities due to intense military operations,” said Katribu secretary general Piya Malayao.
The killings of indigenous peoples are now up to 69 deaths, which occurred mainly in northern Mindanao, she said.
The continuing militarization in Mindanao and the presence of the military in San Miguel, Surigao del Sur, increased the harassment and forced evacuations of more than 2,000 families in the month of August alone.
The timeline presents the harassment of the Lumads at the hands of the military last month:
August 9 – Soldiers of the 36th IBPA occupied San Miguel, Surigao del Sur and attacked Trifpss, leading to the evacuation of 300 families.
August 18 – Five Lumads were killed in Pangantucan, Bukidnon after an encounter of the 1st Special Forces of the AFP and the NPA.
August 27 to 28 – 15 Lumads were taken from White Culaman, Bukidnon by soldiers.
August 31 – 36th IB soldiers and Magahat-Bagani forces occupied Diatagon, Surigao del Sur and burned down Mapasu’s cooperative in Han-ayan community.
Destroying community-initiated development
“This is what hurts us. Our parents initiated to build alternative schools, and we don’t ask help from the government because of their negligence towards us. Now, they want to destroy it all,” said Sari Campos, Mapasu secretary general and nephew of Dionel Campos.
“It pains us students, that they killed our executive director. . . they are belittling us Lumads,” said Yenyela Undayon, a third year Alcadev student.
Sari and Yenyela are among the 10 Lumad students who are in Manila as part of the campaign called “Tambuli tu kalinaw, bugduka tu andayang (Call for peace, defend our right to education).” They were shocked when they learned of the killings in their very school.
Mechanisms to pressure government
“Shouldn’t 262 deaths already alert the government into action? In the time of GMA, they waited until the death toll rose up to 500-600 … Do we need to pile up more statistics? This is very disturbing,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares. He said that pressure must be continuous if only to keep the public informed about the issue.
He said Makabayan lawmakers would hold accountable the Department of Justice, Defense and the Office of the President during the budget hearing to catch their attention on the issue.
Former government peace negotiator lawyer Rene Sarmiento said the human rights violations should be brought up in the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“If you will ask me, I want the peace talks to resume,” Sarmiento said.
He also proposed “mechanisms” to pressure government to act, such as filing of complaints with the Joint Monitoring Committee of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl).
Sarmiento also said the Presidential Committee on human rights, which is a mechanism under the Department of Justice has been inactive, and should be revived. He said cases may also be filed with the Commission on Human Rights and United Nations bodies, adding the need for international attention. “Our government is sensitive to international opinions,” he said.
Sad and angry over killings
Members of the religious sector, such as the Benedictine nuns of St. Scholastica, who supported the Lumad communities and partnered with Alcadev and Mapasu expressed their sadness on the deaths.
“The Alcadev community and Mapasu have been part of my life for eight years. I was assigned in Marihatag, because it became our partner community and I have been one of the first witnesses during the first year St. Scho partnered with Marihatag in 2006. I am saddened because it has been a long standing suffering of harassment faced by the Lumads. They have evacuated yearly, have been harassed yearly,” said Benedictine Sister Angela Bingan.
“At first I was angry, then, the sadness came because I knew them personally. They were the ones who welcomed us every year we went to Marihatag to bring school supplies and train their teachers. Dionel was the one I spoke with whenever we had to go there,” Dr. Rebecca Cacho, theology professor of St. Scholastica’s College said.
“These latest killings and attack against the teachers, staff, tribal schools and community leaders and members are meant to destroy the unity of the Lumad people who have been strong in resisting the plunder of their ancestral lands within and surrounding the Andap Valley Complex by large-scale mining and plantations being pushed by the Aquino government,” said the statement by Alcadev and Trifpss.