DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 4 Aug) – The Davao City Council will probe into the case of some 700 lumads who were allegedly displaced by military presence in their communities in Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and San Fernando, Bukidnon.
A joint committee hearing will be conducted between members of the indigenous peoples, civil, political and human rights organizations, and the council’s peace and public safety committee next week.
Councilor Nilo Abellera Jr. said they will hear the different versions from the military and the tribal leaders at the Haran Evacuation Center, a facility run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), where the lumads have been taking shelter since last May.
Abellera said they want to hear all sides so they can look into what the council can do to prevent what happened last July 23, wherein a “rescue operation” by an interagency group was accused as a move to force the lumads out of Haran, resulting in a commotion as the lumads refused to leave.
The interagency group was composed of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and Davao City Police Office (DCPO).
Senior Insp. Milgrace Driz, spokesperson for DCPO, said 500 policemen were deployed, 150 of them from the Women and Children’s Protection Desk (WCPD).
Military officers from the 10th Infantry Division were also invited at the session of the City Council Tuesday to explain their side on the alleged militarization and creation of the Alamara Group that resulted in the displacement of lumads.
Col. Jake Obligado, commander of 10ID’s Civil Military Operations, said the New People’s Army (NPA) penetrated Talaingod and Kapalong after Typhoon Pablo struck in 2012, damaging their bases in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley.
He added that the NPA has established a shadow-revolutionary government – or the Komiteng Rebolusyonaryo sa Municipalidad (KRM, which translates to Revolutionary Committee in the Municipality) – in Kapalong and Talaingod where camps and landmines were also discovered.
He said the military did not violate the IP’s customary laws as they always pay a courtesy call to tribal leaders before conducting an operation.
In the case of Haran evacuees, he said that they were lured to come to the city with “promised remunerations and chances to meet Manny Pacquiao, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.” Some of them are not even evacuees but later declared as among them, Obligado claimed.
“Continuous complaints were received by the tribal chieftains coming from relatives of lumads in Haran that many are sick, held against their will and are longing to go home,” he said.
In a video presentation, a lumad mother was shown saying that she wanted to go out of Haran and return home.
Obligado also alleged that “complaints received by the tribal chieftains reveal that their constituents were forced to join rallies in Davao City; homes were abandoned, farms and animals were no longer attended; and other relatives, especially children, who are left in the locality also suffer. Some adults and parents who are supposed to take care of them are in Haran.”
He also denied the existence of the Alamara Group.
“Alamara is believed to be a word coined by the CPP-NPA-NDF (CNN) to demonize the bagani guards of several tribes who resisted the ideological, political and organizing works of CNN among the IP communities,” he said.
Following his 10-day trip to the Philippines, United Nations Special Rapporteur Chaloka Beyani, in a statement, said that lumads told him of their concerns, including the alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, among them the Alamara.
“Schools have reportedly been closed and/or occupied by the AFP or Alamara, hampering the access to education of indigenous children,” he said.
The rapporteur had talked with tribal leaders who told him that they are not being forced to stay.
Beyani added the lumads wanted to go home but will only feel safe to do if the long-term militarization of their lands comes to an end.
He called on the government to immediately resolve the issue in consultation with the IPs themselves and “give greater attention to addressing the causes of displacement whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.”
Beyani added that displacement such as this has an impact on the cultures and ways of life of the IPs that “must be protected or otherwise lost, perhaps forever.”
For him, the existing legislations like the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) are not enough to protect them from displacement.