“Moses said, ‘Let the people go.’ But today, we are asking to ‘let the people come.’”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Indigenous peoples, progressives and church people called for public support, in a press conference today, Oct. 23, at St. Scholastica’s College, as a contingent of Lumad march their way to Manila to bring their plight to government attention.
“Moses said, ‘Let the people go.’ But today, we are asking to ‘let the people come’,” said Bishop Reul Marigsa, United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) general secretary, following reports of attempts to stop the Manilakbayan from reaching Manila.
The “lakbayanis” come from the Lumád people of Mindanao and contingents from various regions in the country to bring their plight to the “center.” This year’s Manilakbayan took off on Tuesday, Oct. 20. They are set to arrive in Manila on Oct. 25.
Nearly 3,000 Lumád are currently seeking refuge in Tandag City following the Sept. 1 brutal killings of their tribal leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo and Alcadev executive director Emerito Samarca in Han-ayan, Diatagon village in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
As of this writing, not one among the identified suspects – members of paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani — has been arrested. The Philippine government has attempted to whitewash the killings with President Aquino saying that it is not their policy to kill Lumád, and the military’s pronouncement that the killings were the result of a tribal war.
In the middle of the press briefing, it was announced that the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon was being demolished by soldiers. The school is named after the Italian missionary also known as “Father Pops” who was killed in 2012 for being vocal against mining and militarization in the communities.
“We are experiencing terrible rage and anger towards the government,” Sr. Stella Matutina OSB, spokesperson of Panalipdan Mindanao, said in tears.
At the latter part of the press conference, Sr. Matutina said that church people who support the cause of the Lumad are being vilified as well. Matutina is among the leaders and activists who were slapped with trumped-up charges in Mindanao.
“Let us not be afraid of being branded as communists or Leftists. This is the same tactic they used back in the Martial Law days. We were able to survive Martial Law. Why should we fear now?” Sr. Cres Lucero SFIC said.
The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), in its recently concluded general assembly for its Indigenous Peoples Desk, expressed support to the Manilakbayan and to an international fact-finding mission that would be held on Oct. 26 to 30.
A petition spearheaded by the religious sector calling on President Aquino to stop the Lumád killings has garnered 1,200 signatories. Among those who signed were Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, National Council of Churches in the Philippines general secretary Rev. Rex RB Reyes, Iglesia Filipina Independiente Obispo Maximo Ephraim Fajutagana, and church leaders from countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, India and Taiwan.
“Allowing the Lumad to be subjected to massive forced displacement and, even worse, massacres, killings, harassment and rampages of terror under a national security plan is tantamount to tolerating cultural destruction or effecting the obliteration, even genocide, of the Lumad people. We cannot allow this behavior to continue,” the petition read.
Sr. Francis Añover, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines national coordinator, said that as the church’s Year of the Poor ends, “it is our utmost obligation to hear the cry for help and stand with the poor.” She added that joining the public clamor to stop killing Lumad is “not only morally just but a concretization of the teachings of Christ.”