“The one change he brought is more killings.”
By ARNETH ASSIDAO
MANILA – “When Duterte was elected as president, we were hoping he would bring progress to our region. But the opposite happened. We now call him a traitor in Mindanao.”
This was the statement of Jeremias Numeral of Kilusan ng mga Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP) during a forum dubbed as “SUMADA: State of Unrest in Mindanao Against Duterte’s Tyranny,” on July 19 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
A year after Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network noted a significant rise in human rights violations.
In May 2017, Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law, citing lingering threats from terror groups after the Marawi siege. Martial law has been extended twice since then.
Ruis Valle of SOS Network said that nine have killed and 111 were illegally arrested and detained. Valle added that more than 11,000 have evacuated from their homes over the past two years. Nearly 8,000 have been threatened or harassed by soldiers while more than 2,000 were coerced to surrender as New People’s Army (NPA) fighters.
Lumad leader Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay did not hide her frustration. “We were expecting Duterte to help us, but he only brought more terror to our communities. The soldiers he deployed in Mindanao are harassing even the elders and women.”
Indigenous schools that have long been targets of intimidation and harassment from soldiers also suffered intensified attacks after Duterte’s declaration of martial law, according to Valle.
Ever since Duterte assumed office, 18 schools have been destroyed and 535 cases of attacks on schools have been recorded. The SOS Network revealed that 70 percent of these incidents happened after martial law was implemented. Teachers, students, and parents are often red-tagged and forced to pose as NPA returnees.
“We already built our own schools but they wouldn’t stop disturbing us, especially our youth whom we rely on to defend our ancestral lands against foreign groups,” Bai Bigkay added.
Martial law is being used as an excuse to kill students and discourage them from attending Lumad schools, said Grade 10 Lumad student Jomar Binag.
Binag is a student of Community Technical College of Southern Mindanao (CTCSM), one of the alternative learning institutions that provide education to indigent youth in Mindanao. Binag said he opted for an indigenous school because he could not afford the tuition in what he called “Dep-Ed schools.”
“Why are they killing us? We just want to learn to read, write, and count. Duterte allows foreign companies to exploit our natural resources but does not care about the welfare of the youth,” Binag said.
Jerome Aba of Suara Bangsamoro also expressed his disappointment over Duterte’s failure to live up to his ‘Change is coming’ campaign slogan.
He said Moro people from the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a region known for corruption and violence during the elections, united to vote for Duterte because of his promises.
“The one change he brought is more killings,” Aba said.
Most of the country’s poorest regions are in Mindanao, which makes them all the more vulnerable to Duterte’s anti-people policies including the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN law, Valle said.
A report by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in 2015 revealed that 11 of 20 poorest provinces in the country are located in Mindanao, with Lanao del Sur in ARMM topping the list.
According to Valle, the TRAIN law became an additional burden to Mindanaoans who could barely survive on their meager wages and unstable jobs.
In Davao City alone, 80 percent of the companies still practice contractualization. Due to lack of job opportunities, 360,000 Mindanaoans had to leave the country to work abroad in 2017 according to SOS Network data.
During his presidential campaign, Duterte had promised to end contractualization, a practice where firms repeatedly hire workers every five months to avoid having to regularize them by the sixth month, denying them of benefits.
Valle also pointed out how Duterte failed to address the land crisis in Mindanao and even made it worse with his policies, citing the president’s recent endorsement of foreign investors’ plan to expand palm oil plantations in Mindanao by 2022.
Agribusiness plantations currently cover about 500,000 hectares of land in Mindanao. If the expansion pushes through, another one million hectares will be allotted for the project.
Numeral, who came from Caraga region, one of the areas targeted for palm oil expansion, said that many farmers who are campaigning against foreign intrusion and land grabbing are tagged as rebels and accused with trumped-up charges under Duterte’s martial law.
Duterte: A terrorist, plunderer, peace spoiler
According to Aba, the government is the one responsible for the terror and violence in Mindanao.
“Duterte declared martial law on the ground of so-called threats from terror groups. But why is it that one year after his declaration, the number of ‘ISIS-inspired’ groups has only doubled?”
Aba also called Duterte a plunderer for peddling the country’s land and resources to multinational companies and using the Marawi conflict as an excuse to open the whole island of Mindanao to foreign investors.
“As Mindanaoans, we see Duterte’s first two years of presidency as a series of killings, arrest, bombing, evacuation, and plunder.”
Days before the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), Aba assured that Mindanao will be joining the ranks of the masses who want to hold Duterte accountable for the injustices he has committed against the Filipino people.
“We, who voted and campaigned for Duterte, and can be considered as the reason why he is in power, will join and even lead the campaign to oust him.”