“This is the Duterte regime’s version of peace – terrorizing communities and strengthening military rule over civilians.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Makabayan bloc filed a House Resolution on Wednesday, July 18, urging the Committee on Human Rights to look into the reported human rights violations committed against the Lumad in Surigao del Sur that led to their evacuation last Monday, July 16.
Save our Schools Network-Caraga said around 100 soldiers from the 75th Infantry Battalion have been occupying their communities for a month now. At least 328 families or 1,607 Lumad from 11 communities of Diatagon village, Lianga and three communities of Buhisan village, San Agustin fled their homes and evacuated to the Diatagon Gymnasium in Lianga to seek temporary shelter.
Among the evacuees are some 568 students and 48 teachers from eight community schools of Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev).
“Several attacks have been made committed against indigenous peoples. They have experienced threats, harassments, intimidation, forcible closure of schools, bombings, destruction of properties, enforced disappearance, torture, killings, etc. All of these were perpetrated to force them out of their lands and to make way for the entry of large businesses,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said in a statement.
This is not the first incident of the evacuation of the Lumad particularly in Diatagon village. On Sept. 1, 2015, the tribe leaders of the village, Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo and the executive director of Alcadev, Emerito Samarca were massacred by paramilitary forces.
The communities, which are the Lumad’s ancestral lands, are said to be within the Andap Valley Complex which is known to be one of the biggest coal reserves in the country. The SOS Network-Caraga also pointed out that President Duterte himself said that he will invite investors to develop ancestral lands in Mindanao.
Elago said that as of 2016 there have been 11 coal mining contracts that were awarded to coal mining companies to explore and five contracts to operate in the ancestral lands “without the knowledge of the Lumad.” The Benguet Corp., Great Wall Mining and Abacus Coal are also set to operate mines in the area. The soldiers are reportedly deployed in the area to give protection to the investors.
“The violation of the rights of the indigenous peoples amid counter-insurgency and other military operations and big business interests have been well-documented and condemned for decades. It is then the duty of the House of Representatives to provide urgent measures to prevent such abuses against our people, especially the marginalized indigenous peoples,” Elago said.
Harassment and intimidation against Lumad students and teachers
According to SOS Network-Caraga, the schools, the teachers and their students are the targets in the massive militarization in the communities. Teacher “Maya,” a Lumad teacher of TRIFPSS community school in sitio Simawao said soldiers with firearms are roaming the school grounds during flag ceremony.
The soldiers would sneak up on them from a nearby she while they were having classes. “They ask our students for information about the teachers in exchange for money and food,” the teacher said.
For Maya, it is clear that they are the targets as the military detachment is only 50 meters away from their school.
Parents are also being harassed by the soldiers who accuse the Lumad schools as being operated by the New People’s Army. The soldiers also claim that the schools are not accredited by the Department of Education.
SOS Network-Caraga said TRIFPSS and Alcadev have been awarded by the DepEd as the Most Outstanding Literacy Program of Caraga and the Philippines for several years now.
Meanwhile, due to the presence of the military, residents could not go to their farms to harvest their crops, Lumad leaders are being threatened with criminal charges and Lumad women are harassed by the soldiers asking “Who are the women that we can buy here?”
“This is the Duterte regime’s version of peace – terrorizing communities and strengthening military rule over civilians,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.
“This trend has progressively worsened under Duterte, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines turning indigenous and peasant communities into their playground for rights abuses. Their unwanted presence in rural areas has once again caused the evacuation of more than a thousand individuals,” Palabay added.
Barring the media
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) strongly condemned the barring of journalists from covering the evacuation. Five Davao-based journalists from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Radyo ni Juan Network, Kilab Multimedia, The Breakaway Media and Davao Today were flagged down by the elements of the 4th CMO Battalion at Kilometer 3, sitio Neptune in Diatagon, Lianga yesterday, July 17. According to the NUJP, the journalists were told “not to proceed to where the evacuees were gathered.”
The journalists were ordered by Major Jason Igloria, battalion ground commander manning the checkpoint to first secure a permit from the Lianga Municipal Social Welfare and Development (MSWD) office before they would be allowed to cover the evacuation. Igloria claimed that the place is dangerous saying it is an “ambush area.”
There was also no explanation why the journalists were not allowed by the MSWD to go to the area where the evacuees were staying, the NUJP added.
“We stress that, in the absence of clear and present danger, neither the Army, MSWD, or any government agency has the authority to prevent any Filipino citizen from enjoying the freedom to travel and, in this case, stop journalists from covering what is clearly an event of utmost public interest and concern,” the NUJP said in a statement.
It added that martial law now being implemented in Mindanao does not justify the arbitrary restriction on coverage of the Lumad evacuation.
“Unless, of course, we have ceased to be a democracy. What happened was a clearly unconstitutional violation of press freedom and, more importantly, of the people’s right to know,” the NUJP statement read.
As of July 18, Karapatan-Caraga said elements of the 75th IB and Philippine National Police have been stationed outside the Diatagon gymnasium blocking food relief for the evacuees. Groups and individuals extending humanitarian support are also being threatened of arrest.