“Activities undertaken by security forces as well as armed groups within and around IP communities in Mindanao have resulted in legitimate expressions of fear and insecurity, in displacement, and is endangering the security and safety of non-combatants, including women, children and older persons.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – A United Nations (UN) official in the country has joined the call for justice for the Lumád, as he expressed concern over their plight, and how their rights have been violated in spite of the Philippine government being a signatory to various UN conventions.
Ola Almgren, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in the Philippines, in his speech entitled “Lot of the Lumads – Human Rights Challenges of the IPs of Mindanao,” called for the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of violence against the Lumád, the disbandment of all armed groups in communities, the delivery of social services to indigenous peoples by civilian line government agencies, and the resumption of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Almgren was a reactor at the Dec. 8 informal forum, Progressive Ideas and Perspectives Learning Series (PIPELINES) organized by the Office of the Political Adviser (Opa) in Malacañang. He proposed short-term and long-term actions to help resolve the plight of the Lumád.
“The UN agrees with the many calls for local armed groups, including indigenous peoples (IP) armed groups, to urgently and systematically be disarmed and disbanded and stopped from engaging in violence and criminal activities. The State must ensure that law and order is consistently maintained in all communities,” Almgren said in his speech.
“Activities undertaken by security forces as well as armed groups within and around IP communities in Mindanao have resulted in legitimate expressions of fear and insecurity, in displacement, and is endangering the security and safety of non-combatants, including women, children and older persons,” he said.
Almgren also called for the “full protection” of civilians and non-combatants in accordance with International Humanitarian Laws (IHL), and for their protection from persecution and harassment because of their political beliefs. He also stressed the need to reopen the peace negotiations.
The month-long protest caravan, Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2015, had condemned how military operations in communities targeted leaders and members of progressive Lumad organizations, whom they have branded as supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“A meaningful and comprehensive resumption of the peace process between the Government and the CPP-NPA-NDF is essential to ensuring lasting peace for the Philippines,” Almgren said.
He also commented on the attacks on tribal schools put up by Lumad groups, which the military had branded as “NPA schools.”
“We must remember that the targeting or occupation of schools, as well as the harassment or attacks on teachers and students are considered grave violations under the UN Resolution 1612 which covers children in armed conflict and for which there is a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) established in the Philippines,” said the UN official.
Thousands of Lumád remain in evacuation centers in Mindanao, where they have sought sanctuary from operations by soldiers and paramilitary groups, which had resulted in the killings and harassment of leaders, attacks and burning of tribal schools.
Almgren shared the concern of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) which said that the entry of mining and extractive companies into indigenous ancestral lands has caused the violations against them.
“Many who resist these advances have been subject to serious human rights violations, including threats, displacement and loss of life,” he said.
Almgren echoed the solidarity statement issued by Manila Archbishop Cardinal Antonio Tagle when he visited the Manilakbayan Kampuhan in Manila in November, and said that indigenous peoples’ communities should be preserved as “zones of peace.”
He said he also looks forward to the result of the investigation and prosecution by the Department of Justice, which started a probe on the Lumád plight in September.
The UN official called for dialogues to help resolve the issue: “Let us work collectively and collaboratively to address and resolve these challenges so that the Lumads, and all IPs, can live in safety and security, enjoy a high standard of living through the enjoyment of traditional or non-traditional livelihoods, have provision of social services that are at par with other parts of the country, and be supported in the preservation of their culture and the natural resources that make up the tremendous wealth and diversity of the Philippines.”