Church groups decry killing of 3 Lumads, including minor, in Surigao

Faith-based groups denounced the killing of 3 Lumads, including a 12-year-old, by the military in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on June 15.

“I can’t help but feel enraged that a child was again killed due to violence. How are we promoting peace while at the same time, bring death to our people?” said Kidapawan Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, national director of Caritas Philippines, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) social action arm, in a statement released Monday, June 21.

On June 16, human rights group Karapatan reported the death of Willy Rodriguez, Lenie Rivas, and 12-year-old Angel Rivas, after the Philippine Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion opened fire at them while the three were harvesting abaca.

Karapatan said the victims, who were members of the Manobo tribe, were farmers.

According to the rights group, Angel was a grade 6 student at the Lumad school Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS), while Willy and Lenie were both members of Lumad organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU).

Sabokahan IP Women, a grassroots women’s organization, also alleged that Angel and Lenie were raped before being killed by soldiers.

The military, however, claimed that the victims were members of the New Peoples’ Army who shot at the soldiers, prompting them to fire back. Brigadier General Allan Hambala, commander of the Army's 401st Infantry Brigade, also said that soldiers did not see the minor during the encounter due to the “thick jungle foliage.”

The provincial government of Surigao del Sur had already formed a fact-finding team, which included Bishop Raul Dael of the Diocese of Tandag to probe the incident.

‘Let justice prevail’

Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the largest group of mainline Protestant and non-Roman Catholic churches in the country, called the incident a “violation of International Humanitarian Law.”

“The military have killed helpless and unarmed civilians, and worse, branded them as combatants, and enemies of the state,” the NCCP said in a June 23 statement.

This was not the first time that Lumads were killed in Lianga, the NCCP said. In September 2015, three Lumad leaders and rights advocates, one of whom was a member of MAPASU, were killed in the town by paramilitary groups.

“We grieve with the families of Angel, Lenie, and Willy. We lift them up in fervent prayer that justice and mercy shall be given to them. The NCCP is one with our Lumad siblings, and in the call to stop killings of Lumads and to pull out the military troops from their communities. We also call for a stop to various violations against those advocating for the rights and welfare of indigenous people, especially their right to self-determination,” the group’s statement read.

The NCCP also called on the Commission on Human Rights, the House of Representatives, and “concerned members of the international community” for an independent investigation not just on the Lianga killings, but on other incidents of human rights violations.

Fr Antonio Labiao, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, called on President Rodrigo Duterte to “let justice prevail” not just for those killed in Lianga but all other victims of extrajudicial killings.

“Mr President, be the honorable man that you are. Let justice prevail, not only for Angel Rivas and all the other minors killed because of armed conflict, but for everyone who died because of unlawful and excessive exercise of power, including your relentless war on drugs,” Labiao said. –