By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Various groups all over the country took turns expressing indignation and calling for justice in the latest killings in Mindanao perpetrated by paramilitary groups suspected of collusion with soldiers.
Candle-lighting protests were held in the cities of Manila, Quezon and Baguio. On Sept. 4, protesting Manila-based youth groups smeared paint on the gates and walls of Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Social media was filled with tribute for Emerito Samarca, executive director of the alternative tribal high school Alcadev, and Manobos Dionel Campos, chairperson of the Mapasu, and Datu Bello Sinzo. The three were slain by the Lumad paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani Force on Sept. 1, in Diatagon village, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
Different indigenous peoples, religious, peasants, health, environmentalist and other progressive groups condemned the gruesome killings and called for the dismantling and disarming of paramilitary groups, and the pull-out of the military in communities.
But other than bringing the actual perpetrators to justice, the groups said President Aquino should be held accountable for his regime’s “blood debts” – human rights violations committed under the internal security program, Oplan Bayanihan.
“Lumad schools and communities have been soaked in blood ever since the Aquino government ordered the AFP to sow terror in Mindanao,” said League of Filipino Students (LFS) spokesperson Charisse Bañez.
“Aquino deserves the wrath of the Filipino people. He must be held accountable for engineering Oplan Bayanihan and continuing and aggravating the culture of impunity. He and his cohorts must be kicked out of Malacañang and be thrown behind bars for their grave crimes the Filipino people,” Bañez said.
The Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayang Pilipino (Katribu) documented 13 indigenous peoples killed from March 24 to Sept. 1, all in Mindanao. Two of the victims were minors Emer Somina, 17 and Norman Samia, 13, who were among the five people shot dead in Mendis village, Pangantucan, Bukidnon, during a military operation by the 3rd company of the 1st Special Forces Battalion.
“These are Aquino’s blood debts, which he should be accountable for, now or when he leaves the presidency,” said Anakpawis partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap.
At present, more than 2,000 residents from three towns in Surigao del Sur have fled to the provincial capitol in Tandag City to escape from the operations by soldiers and paramilitary groups. For the same reason, some 700 Lumads from Bukidnon and Davao del Norte have been staying at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran House in Davao City for almost five months.
“Mindanao is now a virtual a garrison with 55 combat battalions carrying out President Aquino’s deceptive but deadly counter-insurgency war, leaving behind human rights violations on its wake,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.
Zarate said Aquino has broken his 2010 election campaign promise to dismantle paramilitary groups and private armies. “At the twilight of its administration, his legacy is nothing but a continuing state of impunity and grave rights violations just like his predecessor,” he said.
Urgent action alerts were also circulated by different local and international human rights advocate groups.
The Australian Chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) routed an email letter addressed to Aquino, calling for the “immediate formation of an independent fact-finding and investigation team composed of representatives from human rights groups, the Church, local government, and the Commission on Human Rights to look into these incidents of human rights violations; and, to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators.”
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) pointed out that journalists were among the 262 victims of extrajudicial killings under Aquino.
“In defense of their lands from destruction, Lumads opposed and fought militarization brought by Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan to curb resistance and protect big business interests. Similar to when a radio commentator expressed his opinion and criticism, armed goons of the government are ready to execute whoever disagrees with the status quo,” said CEGP national president Marc Lino Abila.
Threat to alternative schools
Anna Leah Escresa-Colina, executive director of the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, Inc. (EILER), said government’s failure to punish perpetrators of killings only emboldens them, and “escalates humanitarian crisis in Mindanao.”
“The continuation of deadly attacks on Lumad schools in Mindanao certainly poses a grave threat to other alternative learning centers including schools, and creates a climate of fear among the already impoverished and displaced children of Mindanao,” she added.
Stand united and fight for justice
Some religious groups who worked in partnership with Alcadev, were specially affected by Samarca’s death. In a press conference on Sept. 2, Benedictine nuns from St. Scholastica were among those who came in force to join the call for justice for the victims.
“We, from the Benedictine sisters, call for the respect of the rights of indigenous peoples. Stop mining. Stop development aggression,” said Sr. Theody Bilocura.
Sister Ma. Famita Somogod of the Missionary Sisters of Mary (MSM) and coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region (RMP-NMR), called Samarca, Campos and Sinzo “prophets of indigenous right to education.”
“We are consoled by God’s promise of justice for those who have lived up to righteousness like Emok, Dionel, Bello, and countless others,” Somogod said. “For God is angry, and He will avenge them.”
She said victims and the public must unite and act to stop to the killings and attacks. “What we need to do is to fortify ourselves and make a unified stand. We have to be strong to demand prosecution…We can end the impunity only by showing that we are not weak targets.”