The lumad urged CHR Chair Chito Gascon and the CHR to go directly to the Lumad communities to investigate.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — “We are sorry for whatever lapses or lack of attention the (CHR) might have committed,” Commission on Human Rights chairperson Chito Gascon said to Lumad children who have been forced to vacate their community-built schools in Mindanao hinterlands.
Gascon visited the Lumad camp inside UP Diliman on Sunday, August 6. During his visit, some Lumad leaders and students shared with him the situation they faced in their home communities in Mindanao and why they had been forced to leave their homes yet again, and start their classes while camped out in UP.
To the children’s report that the CHR has not yet acted on the cases they filed against the military who, they said, have been assaulting the Lumad schools and communities in Mindanao, Gascon responded with an apology and a promise. He said they will review and fast-track cases filed by the Lumads in various regional CHR offices.
Jong Monzon, the spokesperson of PASAKA Confederation of Lumad Organization in Southern Mindanao, shared with the CHR chairman their traumatic experience with CHR XI personnel. Their visit to the Lumad evacuation center in Haran, Davao City left the Lumad children anxious because of their “malicious’ questions,” Monzon said.
Having evacuated their communities due to militarization, the children are quick to sense military-like behavior especially when directed to them. Monzon said the children found that the [CHR staff] were asking questions the same way the military conducted questioning, leaving the children feeling raw and vulnerable.
Although the Lumad encamped in UP Diliman are appreciative of Gascon’s visit, Monzon of Pasaka said they urged Gascon and the CHR to go directly to the Lumad communities to investigate.
“There they would see for themselves the extent of human rights violations,” he explained. He added that conducting an investigation in an evacuation site is not enough. “The affected communities show the more succinct picture.”
The Lumad communities have had to live with military assault for years now. Living as they are in the hinterlands, unreached by government’s social services and listed as one of the targets of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign, many of their actions have been viewed with suspicions by the military. They reported surveillance and harassment as they go to their farms and also when they buy their needed supplies. The military also views with suspicion the Lumad community’s efforts to build and run schools attuned to the national minority’s situation.
Another Lumad, Bai Eufemia Cullamat, expressed dismay at what she describes as shoddy work on upholding human rights of the CHR office in their home region in Caraga. “We are very disheartened because, over the years, we have filed complaints with the CHR, but until now it has not acted on any of these,” she said.
Cullamat said the September 1 Lianga massacre case where a school teacher and two lumad leaders were killed in front of their neighbors remains unsolved to this day. Their community members see the perpetrators at large and seemingly protected by the military.
Before the CHR personnel’s visit to Lumad schoolers in their evacuation camp in UP, they requested for a dialogue but the Lumad leaders refused. They cited the children’s ‘bad experience’ in facing the CHR personnel.
Since the previous administration of Noynoy Aquino, the Lumads have been calling on the government to stop the military attacks on their schools and communities. According to the Save Our Schools Network, there were 342 recorded attacks on lumad schools from 2012 to 2015. During the first year of Duterte administration, they documented 83 incidences of military attacks, most in southern Mindanao region.
Soldiers have been taking over lumad schools, houses, and communities even before the Duterte government declared martial law. A lumad datu from Bukidnon said the military has taken to camping in their schools and houses, harassing and threatening them as they try to go about their daily activities. This prompted their community to evacuate.