Is the military innocent in Lumad killings?

Fritzie Rodriguez
Is the military innocent in Lumad killings?
A young Lumad who is caught in the middle of the war between the government and the New People's Army shares his take on the killings in indigenous areas

MANILA, Philippines – The military is innocent in the contoversial Lumad killings, a young Lumad is insisting. His hands fell on his lap as he spoke in Bisaya and broken Tagalog. The boy is 18 and had just left his Surigao del Sur home in Ha-ayan, Barangay Diatagon Lianga. 

He is among the Lumad that lawyer Levito Baligod brought to Manila to have their voices heard on the issue. 

On Wednesday, September 30, Baligod told Rappler he is helping some Lumad who are telling a different story compared to the relatives of the victims and activists. (WATCH: Lumad: Caught in the middle of a war)

Human rights groups, activists, journalists, and pundits have weighed in on the situation, holding authorities accountable. The crisis has displaced more than 4,000 indigenous peoples from Surigao del Sur, Bukidnon, Saranggani, and Davao del Norte allegedly due to human rights violations committed by the military. (READ: #StopLumadKillings trends: Nasaan ang Pangulo?)

Alternative learning

The boy’s father is dead and his mother remarried. He was raised by his grandmother, a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). But he himself is not a member of the group, he said.

He claimed he was an  Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) student, a school which provides an “alternative learning system especially designed to provide secondary education to indigent indigenous youth – the Manobo, Higaonon, Banwaon, Talaandig, and Mamanwa.”  

According to ALCADEV, they offer “academic studies, vocational, and technical skills.” The boy learned how to read and write at ALCADEV. But there, he also learned how to hold a gun, he said. He first held one during 3rd grade.

Why the gun? “Para manalo sa pakikipaglaban sa gobyerno (To win the fight against the government),” the boy answered. 

In places like Lianga, there are no government schools, Baligod told Rappler.

“What’s there is ALCADEV and TRIFPSS (Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur Schools) which are both being run by the CPP-NPA.”

Several groups, however, disagree and support ALCADEV, stressing its role in helping indigenous peoples (IPs) .

ALCADEV’s name has not always been as tainted. It is known as an award-winning privately operated but government-regulated learning institution established in 2004 by different IP organizations in CARAGA. Its students mostly live in the highlands of Surigao del Norte and Sur, Agusan del Norte and Sur.

‘Radicalizing the youth’

Although the boy knows how to use a gun, he said he never fired one. At school, he said he learned “NPA songs” (kanta na pang-NPA). On Saturdays, his teachers would take them to NPA postings. 

After graduating, the boy claimed that students either turn into ALCADEV teachers or NPA members. 

“They were taught to hate the government,” Baligod said. “So the CPP-NPA radicalized the youth, indoctrinated the general population for them to revolt against the government. So we need government presence in the area.”

“On their behalf, we will try to ask government to provide protection for the Lumad people,” Baligod continued. “Because if there’s no government there, the CPP-NPA can easily enter, inflitrate, and impose their will.”

But according to ALCADEV, its main mission is to empower the indigenous youth to become “self-reliant, self-sufficient, analytical and creative in seeking ways to improve the quality of life of their families, their indigenous communities and the country.”

Attacks on the Lumad

It was earlier reported that a series of attacks on the Lumad of Mindanao have been taking place since May this year. The attacks are concentrated in Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur, which are hosts to Lumad schools. 

When asked whether the Lumad killings and reports of violence and harassment in Surigao del Sur were committed by the military or paramilitary, the boy gave a swift “no.” It was the NPA who did it, he claimed.

A 13-year-old Lumad, however, earlier told Rappler that she witnessed how her father, a Lumad leader and farmer, was shot in the head twice allegedly by military and paramilitary elements on September 1 near their village in Lianga town in Surigao del Sur. 

On the same day, another Lumad was killed together with ALCADEV executive director Emerico Samarte. Samarte was killed inside a classroom in Barangay Diatagon. The culprits, according to the human rights group Karapatan, are the paramilitary group Magahat. (READ: School head, 2 lumad leaders killed in Surigao del Sur)

Peace talks

On September 22, two United Nations special rapporteurs on IP rights urged the Aquino government to look into the Lumad killings, condemning the attacks on the Lumad and educators (READ: Lumad killings unacceptable – UN experts)

Peace talks among the government, the NPA, and the National Democratic Front must also be pursued, UN Rapporteur Vicky Tauli-Corpuz earlier told Rappler.

The UN expert also recommended that “a mechanism where a joint monitoring and investigation could happen” be formed.

“The people are caught in the middle. They are…made to side with whichever group, and in the process, that’s when all these kinds of killings are happening,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

Before leaving for Manila with Baligod, the boy stayed in an evacuation center, a sports complex in Tandag City.

“Condition’s tough, people only sleep in chairs,” he said in Bisaya. “We eat instant noodles and it’s hard to bathe.”

He added that ALCADEV students are separated from the rest of the evacuees within the center. “Teachers guard them, in case they’re pulled by soldiers.”

The boy wishes to pursue his studies, without ever having to pull a trigger in his life.

His words are only among the several voices either drowned or amplified in the ongoing revelation about the lives and deaths of the Lumad. –

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