A month-long campaign unites people from Mindanao with those in the Visayas and Luzon, to get the attention of the “center” – Metro Manila – the source of power, policies and indifference.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – In a virtual, symbolic ‘bakwet” (evacuation), the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao, a 700-strong protest caravan, kicked off this week from different regions of the island to bring the people’s issues to the seat of power: Metro Manila.
Most of the protesters are actual evacuees, Lumáds who have been forced out of their communities by the presence of military troops and paramilitary groups, meant to clear the way for large-scale mining, hydropower projects, or plantations – features of the government’s “development” model.
Many of them are victims of human rights violations – families of the killed or disappeared, or were themselves tortured and detained, or charged with trumped-up criminal cases.
As the “lakbayanis” demand peace and justice in Mindanao, they actually also present an option to many others impoverished and oppresed: to join them in the struggle to assert their rights.
“What is happening in Mindanao is just part of the overall attack against the Filipino people who are waging resistance,” said Kerlan Fanagel, chairperson of Pasaka day Salugpungan Kalimudan (Pasaka), and third nominee of Sulong Katribu partylist.
As the government’s “development model” implements policies that worsen poverty, hunger, and landlessness, the people’s resistance consequently grows in the cities and countryside, with some opting to wage armed struggle and join the New People’s Army (NPA).
This resistance, whether armed or unarmed, is aimed to be put out by a state policy: Oplan Bayanihan.
“There is a policy, because there is an ongoing civil war,” Fanagel said, in an interview with Bulatlat. “The state has a big responsibility to the people, but it’s also the one committing grave human rights violations against those it perceives as NPA supporters.”
“And that is why we travelled all the way here to show that resistance, because the political center is here, Malacañang, the source of Oplan Bayanihan,” he said. “We are also here to gather support, not as victims, but to ask people to stand with us in our struggle.”
Thousands of protesters are expected to join the Manilakbayan, with other “lakbayanis” from the northern, central and southern Luzon, as they echo calls against attacks on the people. Fanagel said the presence of the Manilakbayan amplifies various campaigns in the capital, such as those against corruption, militarization, imperialist plunder.
Resistance against the center’s ‘development’
“There is a resistance, and that is what Oplan Bayanihan aims to quell…the difference is, we have no weapons, we are civilian organizations staunchly defending our environment, land, communities and life. Why should they attack us?” said Fanagel.
The Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayang Pilipino (Katribu) said 60 percent of the approved mining applications in the country are in indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands, covering one million hectares.
In Mindanao, some 500,000 hectares of lands are covered by mining concessions, mostly in Lumád ancestral domains. Another 700,000 hectares are devoted to palm oil, banana and pineapple plantations owned by multinational corporations.
But it is not only in Mindanao, but all over the country, that indigenous and peasant communities are being displaced by mining, agribusiness plantations and mega dam projects. And they are not willing to make more sacrifices “for the sake of development.”
And so, comes “development’s” more evil twin: militarization.
“If government is really sincere, it should address the roots of the conflict, it should go back to the peace negotiations,” Fanagel said. But instead, it opts to use brute force against the people.
Fanagel said at least 55 battalions of the Philippine Army, more than half of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, are now deployed in Mindanao, continuing the increasing trend in 2012. Augmenting them are at least 20 Lumád paramilitary groups, armed and organized by the AFP.
The first Manilakbayan in 2012 was a campaign against the attacks on the Lumád and increased human rights violations, now even more brutal in President Aquino’s – and Oplan Bayanihan’s – last year, Fanagel said.
These attacks include extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, military encampment in communities, harassment and threats on schools, filing of trumped-up charges, forcible recruitment into paramilitary groups, indiscriminate firing, and, the only way to escape it all, forced evacuation.
Katribu said that during Aquino’s five years, 71 indigenous peoples have been killed, 57 of them were Lumád. Indigenous peoples resisting development aggression make up a quarter of the more than 218 victims of killings in the past five years.
Some 40,000 were temporarily displaced due to intensified military operations.
Presenting an option
Amid discrimination and lack of government services, indigenous communities have organized themselves, and thru collective efforts began to carve out their own development model. One such proof is the 146 schools operating in these regions in Mindanao. These schools serve not only as centers for literacy and numeracy, but have helped improve the communities’ agricultural and food production, nurtured indigenous culture, while protecting the ancestral lands.
Their critical way of thinking, strong sense of collective, particularly in protecting their sprawling, resource-rich ancestral lands – put them right in the center of the AFP’s target range. Their schools were called “NPA schools,” their teachers, alleged NPAs.
“Government should be happy about the indigenous initiative to fulfil the millenium target in education, but instead, they are killing those who put up these schools,” Fanagel said, referring to Emerito Samarca, executive director of a Lumád boarding school, who was one of the three men killed in Surigao del Sur.
Fanagel himself was included in kidnapping charges filed against those helping in the evacuation center at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran center in Davao City. In Mindanao alone, at least 250 leaders of groups of indigenous, peasant, workers, youth, human rights, health workers and other sectors have been charged with fabricated criminal cases.
Similar forms of harassment were experienced in other regions, such as in Cagayan Valley where 69 regional and community leaders were charged with kidnapping with homicide. In Metro Manila, activists are tailed, visited in their homes and threatened by suspected military agents.
Bringing hope to the center
In its third year, Manilakbayan doubles its number of “lakbayanis,” from 354 last year, to 700. This is 10 times bigger than the first Manilakbayan in 2012, with 76 participants.
The Manilakbayan will join the People’s Caravan, a protest parallel to the leaders’ summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) on Nov. 18 to 19. The Manilakbayan also coincides with two international conferences in November, which will gather internationalists and activists from countries affected by globalization.
Just as the call to stop Lumád killings was echoed by the international community, such gatherings link up global activists from different countries to amplify common calls: against neoliberal economic policies that favor only “the one percent,” worsening poverty and injustice, and the US War on Terror.
Fanagel said the Manilakbayan also aims to give perspective to those desperate and lost in the confusion of Metro Manila. “Many people here have no homes, jobs, nothing, and are just trying to survive from day to day as individuals,” he said.
The middle class tend to see their role only thru charity work, but everyone must make a stand in problems plaguing the country, Fanagel said.
“But they have the option to be with a community, to join the struggle, the movement to change society,” Fanagel said. More than just bringing Mindanao’s problems to Manila, Manilakbayan serves to show what united communities can do.