CONTRARY to President Benigno Aquino III’s claim that there is no policy to kill or harass tribesmen, the leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said such a policy against tribesmen, called lumad, is part of the administration’s “Whole of Nation Initiative” and the military’s Oplan Bayanihan.
Even Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas lamented that the military-backed Magahat-Bagani murdered tribesmen and caused a flood of refugees in Tandag City in Surigao del Sur.
But the military said on Saturday that it would welcome any investigation on the killings of tribesmen in Mindanao even as it continued to deny any policy against indigenous people.
However, Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said his group obtained a PowerPoint presentation, apparently prepared by the Department of Science and Technology, outlining an “IP-centric” inter-agency program aimed at lumad communities in four Mindanao regions.
According to the presentation that Reyes e-mailed to journalists, the Whole of Nation Initiative was being pursued, particularly in Eastern Mindanao, because 74 percent of the communist New People’s Army are indigenous peoples who have no access to government service.
“Ninety percent of guerilla bases are located in [ancestral domain] areas of IP communities,” read one of the slides in the presentation.
“Forty-four percent, 51 percent, 44 percent and 49.8 percent of the population of Regions 10, 11, 12 and 13 are IPs,” it said.
Reyes noted that it is precisely in these regions where Lumad communities are complaining of harassment and even killings by security forces and militiamen under their supervision and control.
In Surigao del Sur, about 3,000 Manobo fled their homes because of harassment by military-backed militias.
On Sept. 1, Emerito Samarca, executive director of the award-winning Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, and lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo, were murdered in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
In Bukidnon, five Manobo tribesmen, including a blind 72-year-old and two minors, were killed in Panngantucan town in what the military claimed was a “legitimate encounter” with communist rebels.
In the town of Kitao-tao, 14 lumad, including women and a minor, were arrested and flown out by helicopter during an operation involving around 200 Army soldiers.
In Davao del Norte, about 700 Manobo tribesmen fled their homes in Talaingod town because of a military operation by soldiers and militiamen.
But the CBCP president said it was disturbing that national leaders would so quickly dismiss charges of wrongdoing even without an official investigation.
“We are disturbed profoundly by reports that national leaders have been quick to exonerate the militia group of wrongdoing. This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and for justice,” Villegas said in a statement.
“Such declarations inspire credence only after a reliable and trustworthy investigation by impartial and competent persons shall have taken place. If made before any such investigation, they disturbingly suggest a refusal to hold accountable those to whom the Administration so eagerly extends its mantle of protection,” the prelate added
“The CBCP asks the government for an honest, thorough, impartial and speedy investigation so that the guilty may be held to account for their wrong-doing,” Villegas added.
“Indigenous peoples and cultural communities are already disadvantaged in a number of ways. They are, in our day and age, the ‘anawim Yahweh, the poor of the Lord who have no avenger and none to stand for their rights,’ he said.
“That their leaders and members should suffer yet the tragedy that has recently been visited upon them only underscores their plight as marginalized and underserved, apparently outside the pall of protection even of the law. This cannot be just. This cannot be the will of God,” Villegas said.
“That a militia group has been named is likewise troubling. Militia groups, by their very nature, do not fall under a clear, established and accessible chain of command. Government makes use of such groups for counter-insurgency, counter-rebellion maneuvers,” he said.
Villegas said that international law holds governments responsible for the actions of people acting in behalf of the state.
“If militia groups cannot fit within a structure of clear authority and command by legitimate state authority, they should not be tolerated, much less employed as mercenaries by the State. We ask our indigenous Filipino brothers and sisters to keep their faith in the ways of peace and to abide by the law, even as they rightly press for the vindication of their rights,” Villegas said.
The military, however, said in a statement they welcome any probe amid calls by the left-wing Karapatan for the United Nations to probe alleged military atrocities against the indigenous people in Lianga in Surigao del Sur.
“We will cooperate and support any official investigation. Killings of defenseless civilian is outside of the military parameter. We do not condone these atrocities,” said Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, Commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Civil Relations Service (AFP-CRS).
AFP spokesman Restituto Padilla, on the other hand viewed the accusations of left wing groups as an attempt to internationalize the issue and demonize government and the AFP.
“It is obviously part of their agenda to hurl all accusation and blame everything on the AFP to besmirch the AFP’s reputation,” Padilla said, insisting that the military was not involved in the killings.
“The AFP is also doing its own internal investigation to ascertain if AFP actions were appropriate relative to this unfortunate event, “Padilla said, “we assured the public that the interest of the lumads and our respect for their cultural ways is foremost in our minds.”
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