“Paramilitaries in Mindanao have been terrorizing tribal people, while the military, at best, does nothing.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Aquino administration to act to end the attacks against Lumad communities and schools by paramilitary groups in Mindanao, and the reported complicity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“President Aquino should immediately order the Justice Department to conduct an impartial and credible investigation into these attacks, and prosecute those responsible,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a a statement issued Sept. 24.
“These forces have committed killings, torture, forced displacement, and harassment of residents, students, and educators with impunity,” HRW said. “The Aquino administration should not only be cracking down on the paramilitaries, but also on the military officers supporting them.”
HRW said the attacks had led to the closure of tribal schools, and displacement thousands of indigenous peoples in Mindanao.
Military officials have denied links with the paramilitary groups, calling the allegations as “black propaganda.” They attributed the attacks to “tribal war” between anti-communist and “pro-New People’s Army” (NPA) groups.
But HRW said it had interviewed residents who linked the military to two paramilitary groups, Magahat-Bagani in Surigao del Sur and Alamara in Davao del Norte.
“Paramilitaries in Mindanao have been terrorizing tribal people while the military at best does nothing,” Robertson said. “The military’s claims of ‘tribal war’ and denials of complicity fall flat when soldiers do nothing to stop grievous crimes happening right nearby them.”
“At a September 15 news conference inside the armed forces headquarters in Manila, three tribal leaders denied the military’s involvement in the violence, and accused the NPA of instigating it. However, Pimentel and other tribal groups said that two of the three leaders at the news conference were actually leaders of the Magahat and the Alamara,” HRW said.
Robertson said since 2014, the group Alamara has been harassing tribal schools in Bukidnon and Davao del Norte provinces. The group also quoted a Sept. 6 statement by Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel, saying, “The military created a monster.”
“The soldiers stayed outside the classrooms but allowed the Alamara to go inside, fully armed, accusing us of being supporters of the NPA (the communist New People’s Army),” HRW quoted a student, who referred to an incident in March this year.
Robertson cited a report by the Save Our Schools Network, which lists 52 attacks on schools in four Mindanao provinces from 2014 to mid-2015 by combined paramilitary and military forces.
“The Philippine government should join the Safe Schools Declaration, which was opened for endorsement in May in Oslo, Norway, and outlines concrete measures that all governments can take to better protect students, teachers, and schools from attack,” he said.
HRW noted that indigenous and environmental groups have reported how the military use paramilitary groups “to help clear ancestral areas to pave the way for mining companies and other business interests.”
HRW cited that the Lumad areas which are under attack are “known for rich mineral and natural resources that indigenous peoples claim as their ancestral domain.” Surigao del Sur is in Caraga region, designated by the Philippine government as the “mining capital of the Philippines.”
In the past years, HRW had chided President Aquino for failing to disband paramilitary groups, as he had promised in his campaign for presidency in 2010.