By Pilgrims for Peace
We have long been alarmed at the situation of the Lumad – the indigenous peoples in Mindanao. The past years have seen a rise in attacks against Lumad communities and killings of their leaders, reportedly by military and paramilitary forces. Thousands of katatubo families have been internally displaced from different regions of the island in the last ten weeks. Many of those killed, harassed or threatened were vocal critics and oppositors of government policies encouraging and allowing the encroachment of mining activities on their ancestral lands.
As they huddle in public plazas or find sanctuary on Church properties, accounts of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by the military and paramilitary spill forth. Fear for their lives and well-being had prompted them to flee their communities. Many reported that they had been tagged as supporters of the New People’s Army and that the more they stood up for their rights, all the more were they threatened and harassed.
We are outraged by the recent killings and massacres of unarmed civilians that have punctuated the attacks on Lumad communities in many areas in Mindanao. The September 1, 2015 extra-judical killings of Emok Samarca, Onel Campos, and Datu Bello Sinzo laid bare the atrocious and brutal conduct of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani under the direction of the Philippine Army in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. The young students described how Army soldiers told them to expect terror at nightfall, and indeed it came. In early morning, under the shadow of darkness, paramilitary elements shrouded in face masks arrived at the ALCADEV (Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development) and then herded the people toward Km16. The people were told to flee or face massacre and Emok Samarca was tortured and killed while the two other leaders were shot in public view.
On August 18, 2015, five Manobo from one extended family were massacred by Philippine Army troopers in Sitio Mandum, Brgy. Mendis, Pangantucan, Bukidnon as per the testimony of another clansman who managed to escape. Tagged as members of the New People’s Army in the aftermath of a fire-fight not far from their home, a 70-year-old blind tribal leader and four youth were killed by Philippine Army soldiers. When the people, led by a barangay councilor from the community, went to the house the following day, they came upon 22 soldiers who ordered them to carry the remains of the slain victims out of the community.
Thousands of Lumad families have fled militarized communities in Agusan, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Sarangani, and Surigao del Sur. The commonality is that they fear for their lives. They fear the military and paramilitary who have threatened them, violated their human rights, filed trumped-up charges against their leaders, and killed members of their communities. They also report incidents where the military has encamped on school compounds and disrupted normal livelihood activities.
In attacking communities which they accuse of being “sympathetic” or “supportive” of the New People’s Army, the Armed Forces of the Philippines under Operation Plan Bayanihan employ paramilitary “force mulitipliers” and illegal terror tactics which have resulted in violations of the individual human rights and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as International Humanitarian Law which prohibits military attacks on civilians and non-combatants. Children are denied access to education. Entire communities are uprooted and forcibly displaced. People are denied their social, economic, civil and political rights—especially their right to life. And, cultural and collective rights of Lumad communities, including their right to self-determination, have been placed at jeopardy.
We, peace advocates, join all the concerned peace-loving people here and abroad in calling for a stop to the militarization of and attacks on Lumad communities. We call on President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to order the military to pull out of Lumad areas, disband the illegal paramilitary bands formed and directed by state security forces, and put an end to the impunity with which they violate human rights and international humanitarian law.
We call for the immediate constitution of a credible and independent body to investigate the spate of killings and massacres of members of the Lumad, identify and hold accountable the perpetrators, look into the factors, policies and decisions that have brought about and abetted these crimes, and propose measures to prevent their recurrence.
We urge the Philippine Government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to immediately resume peace talks and address the roots of armed conflict in order to attain a just and lasting peace for the entire country. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law – CARHRIHL – between the GPH and NDFP must be upheld and complied with strictly. The Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms must be crafted, signed and implemented, which would include the protection and preservation of the indigenous peoples’ rights and ancestral lands. Only thus can the Lumad, the indigenous peoples in other parts of the country, and the entire Filipino people go about their lives without fear and work for the benefit and prosperity of all.
Reference: Bishop Arturo Asi, Pilgrims for Peace, 0928-385-4123