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MANILA, Philippines - While seeking justice for the killing of his 11-year-old son, Jordan, Subanen Timuay (tribal chieftain) Locencio Manda had to move his wife and two other children out of their ancestral land into safety.
According to Manda, he brought them to an undisclosed location, far from the community, whose struggle to defend their land, he took on after his father died.
Manda, one of the claimants of the Subanen Indigenous Community Ancestral Domain, has been leading the Subanen tribe's efforts to claim and protect their ancestral domain from mining and logging operations. He said he thought his son Jordan, who was a boy scout and a candidate for valedictorian, would succeed him in making sure their rights and traditions are protected and promoted.
On to the UN
A few days before International Human Rights Day, Manda found an ally in his fellow indigenous peoples from other countries in Asia who are taking his plight to the United Nations (UN).
On Tuesday, November 27, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), a Thailand-based network of 43 indigenous peoples' organizations from 14 countries in Asia, included Manda's case in a submission to James Anaya, special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
The special rapporteur is an expert appointed by the Human Rights Council of the UN to examine and report back on the situation of the rights of indigenous peoples around the world.
The AIPP submission sought an "urgent intervention on the killings of indigenous leaders and activists and their families in the Philippines." Militant indigenous groups say at least 30 indigenous peoples have become victims of extrajudicial killings under the Aquino government.
Letter of concern
AIPP felt the Philippine government failed to address its concern over the ambush of Manda and his son Jordan on September 4 in Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur.
"We're still pushing the government to establish a task force that would look into the case. We will also bring this to the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," Richard Guyguyon Gadit, AIPP human rights advocacy officer told Rappler.
Immediately after the ambush, AIPP sent President Benigno Aquino III a letter expressing "deep concern and condemnation" over the attempt on Manda's life that killed his son.
Replying to the letter, Undersecretary Severo Catura, head of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), said that authorities have already filed a murder case and a separate complaint for illegal possession of firearms against 3 suspects. Three other suspects remain at large.
In a letter to Catura last October, police Chief Supt Francisco Don Montenegro, acting director of the directorate for investigation and detective management, said their probe revealed that "the only plausible motive of the incident is Brgy Chairman Manda's position as chieftain of the Pigsalabukan Gukom de Bayog (PGB) because it carries with it some political power."
But AIPP doubted the result of the police investigation and did not discount the possibility the incident could be related to mining.
"We are not sure if those who were arrested were mere fall guys. Is the motive of the killing that authorities provided the real one? We still believe that Manda's involvement in the anti-mining campaign is the reason," Gadit said.
The ancestral domain of Manda's tribe in Bayog has 8 mining permit applications, 3 approved mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA), one approved exploration permit, and numerous illegal small-scale mining operations.
In August 2012, Manda joined Catholic bishops and concerned groups in filing a writ of kalikasan to protect the Pinukis Forest Range, considered by the Subanen people as a sacred site and one of the remaining forest frontiers in the Zamboanga Peninsula covered by various mining applications.
Mining caused conflict
Manda himself believes that the alleged perpetrators, who turned out to be his fellow indigenous peoples, are also victims of the worsening division in his community that, he thinks, is brought about by mining operations.
"Yung kaguluhan na nangyari sa bayan namin sa Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur, dahil yan sa mga pumapasok na interes sa loob ng ancestral domain -- yung mina talaga," Manda told Rappler in an earlier interview. (The conflict in our town in Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur is caused by various interests in the ancestral domain -- it's really the mines.)
When Manda faced the suspected men who ambushed him and killed his son, he gave them P200 each as pocket money before they were put behind bars.
"Sa puso ko lang, naawa din ako sa kanila. May galit ako sa kanila bakit nila ginawa. Pero sigurado ako na hindi nila decision 'yan kundi ng nag-utos sa kanila," Manda told Rappler in an earlier interview. (In my heart, I pitied them. What they did angered me. But I'm sure it was not their decision but the mastermind's.)
Divided by mining
Manda feels that his community is being used and divided by various mining interests in his ancestral land.
"Ginagamit yung pangalan naming katulad ng Lupa Bigatawan. Nagkakahati-hati kasi inorganize nila," Manda said. (Our name -- like Lupa Bigatawan -- is being used. We are being divided because they're also organizing other members of our community.)
He said in Filipino, "As a leader, I don't treat my fellow tribal leaders [who don't share my position on mining] as an enemy because I know their hearts and minds are not like that. The mining company just influenced them."
AIPP expressed concern over efforts to "divide and sow intrigue among indigenous peoples and the defenders of their rights." The group particularly reacted to the circulation of a statement attributed to Manda but which the tribal leader later disowned.
The statement which reached media, particularly the Internet in September, suggested that the indigenous leader was not supporting the "anti-mining advocacy."
He could not have issued the statement because according to him, when the statement was released, he had not yet even buried his son. "So paano ako nakalabas? Walang media na nag-interview sa akin, so paano yun nakalabas? Pati yung kaso nga ng anak ko hindi ko naasikaso." (How could I have gone out? No media interviewed me so how did it come out? I could not even attend to the case of my son.)
Manda said he released an official statement which he signed only after the burial of his son.
Manda also clarified that whatever the label of his advocacy is, it essentially opposes mining operations that violate the rights of his tribe.
"Ang sinusulong namin ay yung paano i-establish ang karapatan naming bilang katutubo. Pero kung may masasagasaan yung mga karapatan namin, kahit sino pwede naming makalaban kasi karapatan namin iyon, eh," he added. (We are pursuing how we could establish our rights as indigenous peoples. We will confront anyone who will trample on our rights.) - Rappler.com