“It is one step, but government should also pull out soldiers, hold human rights violators accountable, and allow evacuees to go home and reestablish their livelihood, schools and communities.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Indigenous peoples were among the many rallyists outside Batasang Pambansa who cheered when President Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire in his July 25 State of the Nation Address (SONA). But they said it should also mean the pullout of soldiers and disbanding of paramilitary groups in communities.
“This is one step towards justice, and it should come with the immediate pullout of soldiers from communities in Surigao del Sur, Davao del Norte and Bukidnon,” said Piya Macliing-Malayao, secretary general of the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu). She said it would mean the return home of indigenous peoples-evacuees.
Some 5,000 indigenous Lumád have been staying for almost a year in evacuation centers in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur and at the Haran Center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City. The bakwets (evacuees) left their homes last year after harassment by soldiers and paramilitary groups. In Lianga, Surigao del Sur, the deployment of soldiers and paramilitary men was a prelude to the killing of two Manobo leaders and a school director.
“It (ceasefire) is one step, but government should also pull out soldiers, hold human rights violators accountable, and allow evacuees to go home and reestablish their livelihood, schools and communities,” Malayao told Bulatlat after listening to Duterte’s speech at the SONA rally.
“This has taken a long-time coming, because the Lumád have long called for justice,” she added.
’Disband paramilitary groups’
Among the thousands of rallyists who came to Manila from Mindanao is Datu Camilo Asunan, a Manobo tribal chief of White Culaman village in Kitaotao, Bukidnon, whose stay at the Haran center turns one year on Aug. 26. Asunan was arrested and detained by police along with 12 other residents based on trumped-up charges. He sought sanctuary in Davao as soon as he was freed.
“If there will be a ceasefire, they should pull out soldiers. Because if they are still in the communities, (the ceasefire) is useless,” Asunan told Bulatlat. He said paramilitary groups should be disbanded.
He added: “The soldiers may follow the ceasefire, but the paramilitary don’t have to.”
Asunan said they recently learned that a paramilitary group called “Empahalad” – the Manobo word for “offering” – have been trained by soldiers of the Philippine Army Special Forces and 8th Infantry Battalion who are encamped in White Culaman. At least 24 trainees have been recruited, including some of his relatives.
“They don’t know the law, they are not even being claimed by the military, so that if they kill somebody, the soldiers are not charged, only the paramilitary,” Asunan said.
Bakwets hope to return home
Students Menirose de Castro and Jesren Miniel, students of the Alternative Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, were also at the SONA rally. They were among the thousands of Manobos who evacuated from Diatagon village on Sept. 1 last year, after the paramilitary Magahat-Bagani men killed their school director Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), and Datu Juvello Sinzo.
“Among us youth, there is now hope that our problems will be solved,” said De Castro, 16. She said Mapasu leader Eufemia Cullamat was among the progressive leaders who met with Duterte after his June 30 inauguration.
“Makakauwi na raw kami, kailangan lang makipagtulungan(We will be able to come home, we just have to work with them),” she recalled their leader’s words.
Rius Valle of the Save our Schools Network said many Lumád evacuees in Haran in Davao City are also optimistic that with President Duterte at the country’s helm, they will soon head home.
“He (Duterte) is close to the Lumád and he has never let us down,” Valle said. Valle is one of the so-called “Haran 15”– the 15 Lumád leaders and progressives who were charged with kidnapping and illegal detention of the Haran evacuees. The Department of Justice junked the charges against them on July 19.
Valle cited a 2014 dialogue by Davao del Norte evacuees with Duterte, then Davao City mayor, which led to the withdrawal of soldiers from Talaingod. However, the soldiers returned after a month. Still, the Lumád hope to have a chance to talk to the President, so they can come home.
“Based on their experience, he listens to their demands, and respects their calls. That is how hopeful they are,” Valle said.
’Bring perpetrators to justice’
Malayao said government must also hold accountable and bring to justice the perpetrators of the killings and attacks on indigenous communities, specially identified paramilitary men, soldiers and commanding officers.
“Although there is emphasis in Mindanao, because of the Lumád killings, there is also repression on indigenous peoples in Zinundungan Valley in Rizal town, Cagayan province, where there is an increased number of progressives charged with trumped-up cases, which goes along with the increased protest of indigenous peoples to protect their land,” she said.
At least 76 individuals, including indigenous peoples of Zinundungan Valley, were charged with kidnapping and homicide in 2015.
At the evacuation at the Surigao del Sur provincial capitol, Miniel said, a large number of drug suspects have surrendered or were caught by police. He and De Castro said they hoped the police will have the same tenacity in running after the paramilitary men and soldiers who colluded to kill the three Lianga martyrs.