DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Kalumaran, a confederation of different indigenous tribes in Mindanao, has expressed alarm over a series of direct attacks, killings, arrests, harassments, zoning, and vilification in Lumad areas where it says there is a strong resistance against environmental plunder.
The attacks are concentrated in the provinces of Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur, which are hosts to Lumad schools that are privately operated but are regulated by the Department of Education (DepEd).
"It is a form of ethnocide but it is worse because there are specific characteristics of impunity and killings targeting the Lumad. What is alarming is that it is happening all over Mindanao," said Kalumaran secretary general Dulphing Ogan.
Several incidents have been reported in the last 4 months:
More than 700 Lumad were displaced from Talaingod in Davao del Norte after alleged government forces and the anti-communist paramilitary group Alamara occupied several villages in the town and in Kapalong. Human rights groups reported of cases of harassments, vilification and indiscriminate firing.
Hundreds of students were also deprived of the right to attend their classes after at least 24 primary and secondary schools operated by the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Incorporated Academy were shut down and the teachers were threatened to be killed.
Davao del Norte Division head of the DepEd Josephine Fadul said the recommendation for the closure of the schools was based on a meeting with high-ranking military officials at the "Regional Intelligence Committee" on April 23.
The Department of Education Region XI declared that the schools were "not closed but just not reopened." The military and DepEd announced that the schools would be replaced by the military using "para-teachers" or soldiers who will act as teachers.
The administrations of the schools cried foul over the decision of DepEd, asserting that the government should facilitate the involvement of NGOs that are trying to fill in the gaps in the education sector. STTICLC and MISFI explained that the inaccessibility of the area and the present conflict situation made the process of compliance more challenging.
More than 500 policemen and government agents, led by North Cotabato 2nd District Representative Nancy Catamco, conducted a "rescue operation" at the evacuation center at the Haran Center, which is operated by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, to force them to return home.
The event resulted in violence after the police forcibly opened the gates of the center and stormed with their truncheons and shields, which left at least 17 Lumads, including a tribal elder, and 2 cops injured.
Chaloka Beyani, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, went to the evacuation center in Davao City to talk to the tribal leaders and displaced residents. He said that his impression was the Lumad were not being detained inside the evacuation center contrary to the claims of the military. Beyani said no one should forcibly take away the Lumad from the evacuation center.
Beyani issued another statement, saying that the military "distorted and misrepresented" his views making it appear that he was accusing support groups of manipulating the Lumad. Eastern Mindanao Command's spokesperson Colonel Eduardo Gubat resigned after making a public apology.
Five Lumad, including a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old, were killed by the Special Forces in Pangantucan town in Bukidnon. The military said they were rebels, but the New People's Army denied the claims, saying the victims were civilians. Later, the 4th Infantry Division, despite their press releases and press conferences claiming that the 5 Lumad were rebels, recanted and accused the NPA of killing the victims.
A 14-year-old Manobo girl from Talaingod filed rape charges against 3 soldiers. The military confirmed that the suspects were soldiers, but explained that the charges were dropped after they paid P63,000 to the family.
Soldiers arrested 11 Manobo tribal and farmer leaders in the town of Kitaotao and transported them by a helicopter. The soldier then declared that the village was already "liberated" from the NPA. The military said the arrest was made after they served 57 search warrants in a community of suspected communist rebels, where they reportedly yielded an improvised M16 rifle, an M79 grenade launcher, 3 rifle grenades, two explosives, and subversive documents.
Isidro Indao, spokesperson of the Kahugpongan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Kitaotao (KMK), denied the military's claims. He asserted that these leaders and organizations were targeted because they were vocal in the campaign against human rights abuses in the mountain communities and were calling for the armed groups, most especially the military, not to occupy civilian villages.
Several families fled their homes after the Bagani paramilitary group, led by a certain Jasmin Acevedo, killed Lumad brothers Crisanto and Loloy Tagugol in the poblacion area of San Miguel town in Surigao del Sur.
At least 2,000 residents from the village of Diatagon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, were displaced after a group of paramilitary, allegedly accompanied by soldiers, killed Emerico Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV).
Samarca was found hogtied, with a stab wound, his throat slit open inside a classroom. ALCADEV is a privately operated but government-regulated learning institution that provides basic and technical education to Lumad children in communities rarely reached by government services.
After killing Samarca, the armed men peppered with bullets Dionel Campos and his cousin Datu Bello Sinzo while the entire village was watching. Campos was a community leader and the chairperson of the indigenous people group Maluhutayong Pakigbisog Alansa sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), which is known for its firm position on the protection of ancestral lands and its campaign against human rights violations targeting indigenous people.
At least 10 houses and a Lumad school were burned by the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group in the community in Panocmo-an in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao de Sur. The group also burned a corn sheller owned by the community in Kabulohan. Both communities are not far from the site where Samarca, Campos, and Sinzo were killed.
Residents sought refuge after an armored personnel carrier and two 6x6 military trucks carrying soldiers in full battle gear rolled inside a village in Pangantucan town in Bukidnon.
Five Lumad evacuees were arrested by a cop in Tandag City for distributing leaflets about the recent attacks.
Ogan of Kalumaran said his group had documented only the major cases. There are other reports of daily harassment, zoning, and occupation done by the military and paramilitary groups.
Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel recently blamed the paramilitary behind the attacks, but he disclosed that these groups were "monsters created by the military" for its counterinsurgency campaign.
Pimentel said that no ragtag bandit can own several high-powered firearms that cost P150,000 each without the help of the military.
The military quickly denied any involvement in the attacks, and vowed to fully support the ongoing investigations.
Colonel Isidro Purisima, commander of 402nd Infantry Brigade, said that the persons identified with the Magahat-Bagani group are not even included in the list of CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA) personnel.
“The AFP adheres to the Law of the land. As provided for in the Constitution to wit: Providing for the Citizen Armed Force whose main function is to protect their communities against any threat group that are disturbing the socio-economic activities and the peaceful-living of our people. The CAA is the only legitimate force being supervised by the AFP. Other armed groups shall be the subject of Law Enforcement Operations conducted by the PNP," Purisima said.
“Your Army will continue its constitutional mandate of protecting the people and securing the community and will never stop in our efforts in bringing peace in these areas. We are calling everyone to stop violence and give peace a chance.” the colonel added.
Pimentel dismissed the military's statement supporting an investigation. He said that if the Armed Forces of the Philippines is sincere in its efforts to achieve peace, then it should immediately disband and disarm all paramilitary groups and spare all civilian communities from its counterinsurgency campaign.
Kalumaran said the military and paramilitary groups are probably annoyed that tribal communities stand firm in their position not to allow mining and logging companies to operate inside their ancestral land.
"These areas are the best spots to extract gold, nickel, and copper. And these areas are also the remaining forests in Mindanao," Ogan said. – Rappler.com