“These killings show how this climate of impunity being pushed by the government is taking away our young people.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Indigenous peoples joined by supporters marched this morning, September 14, from the University of Sto. Tomas in España to Mendiola Bridge (Chino Roces) near Malacañang. Holding aloft a painted mural depicting 19-year old Obello Bay-ao, a lumad killed allegedly by paramilitary forces under the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) last Sept. 5, the protesters, which included his former schoolmates, carried a mock coffin. They conducted a ‘funeral’ in protest of the intensifying killings that lately are victimizing more youth.
The protesters blame Bay-ao’s death on the Duterte government’s policies – from his martial law in Mindanao to his threats of bombing the lumad schools to his implementation of counter-insurgency campaign, which he called Oplan Kapayapaan and his government’s adoption of neoliberal economic policies that target indigenous people’s lands for exploitation.
“We have the right to take Duterte to task,” said a mother of another victim of extra-judicial killing at a speech in Mendiola. The mother said Duterte’s government is steadily infuriating the people.
“He hurls invectives at people, curses the Moro, the lumad, the addicts, but he can’t bring himself to curse his son who is reportedly involved in an anomaly,” said Evangeline Hernandez, chairperson of Hustisya.
Impunity under Duterte
The murdered lumad youth was buried yesterday in his hometown in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. At the protest funeral in Mendiola, other indigenous youths and human rights supporters sounded also like they were holding a funeral of President Duterte’s promises to the people. Hernandez of Hustisya recalled that Duterte was swept to the presidency due to people’s support, which he got for having promised them change.
But now, Hernandez said, “all that he said he stood for has disappeared. What his administration has been doing is showing us that he’s becoming a US puppet and another dictator in the mold of (former strongman) Ferdinand Marcos.”
Obello Bay-ao, a Grade 6 Lumad student of the Salugpongan ‘Ta Tanu Igkanogon Community Center, was shot on Sept 5. Witnesses also said Obello was headed home after working at his family’s farm. He met along his way Joven Salangani of the paramilitary Alamara, and Joven’s cousin, Ben Salangai, from the CAFGU. The latter shot at Bay-ao several times. However, the Armed Forces of the Philippines quickly denied the CAFGU’s involvement in the shooting.
To the administrators of Bay-ao’s school, the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, this is a mark of impunity that requires the people’s condemnation.
The school also lost Grade 3 student Alibando Tingkas, 15, last February 2016. Tingkas died also allegedly in the hands of Joven Salangani.
“These killings show how this climate of impunity being pushed by the government is taking away our young people. We have a president who targets our Lumad schools in its all-out war, ordering men to bomb lumad schools, deploying paramilitaries who shoot at students and teachers and accuse us as rebel schools,” the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center said in a statement.
The learning center caters to 3,000 students all over Davao Region, teaching basic literacy and numeracy, skills in agriculture, and knowledge of indigenous culture and traditions. They hope to preserve and advance the indigenous culture, environment, and protection of ancestral domain. But their actions are regarded by the Duterte government as part or similar to rebellion, hence their being targets of Oplan Kapayapaan.
Sandugo, an alliance of Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples that led the ‘funeral march’ to Mendiola, said the killing of Bay-ao highlights the many cases of killings of indigenous peoples and Moro in the course of the implementation of all-out war/Oplan Kapayaan and martial law. Sandugo holds the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) responsible for “coddling paramilitary groups and mercenary killers.”