DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 August) – Youth leaders in Southern Mindanao on Saturday underscored the need for the youth to take an active role in protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) or Lumads, as they condemned the alleged militarization that they said displaced Lumads from their communities.
“We are against the actions of the military that affected our Lumad brothers and sisters. They (Lumads) are the first who protect our nature, if destroyed will affect us all. We are here to support their struggle,” Fritz Vegas, convenor of Rise for Education Alliance-University of Immaculate Conception (UIC) said Saturday during the torch march from the Freedom Park to the United Church of Christ of the Philippines’ Haran where some 700 Lumads had taken shelter for months now.
Representatives from student councils, school publications, and youth-based organizations participated in the torch march held on the eve of the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, celebrated every August 9.
It also marked the start of the “Pangiyak Ki!” (Shout Out!) Mindanao Youth Summit on August 9 to 10 where 500 young individuals gathered to discuss the role of the youth on alleged militarization in Lumad communities and alleged environmental plunder.
A total of 25 American youth leaders from the Kapit Bisig Kabataan Network (KBKN) US, who came to Mindanao for immersion in Lumad communities from August 3 to 7, also participated in the gathering.
He said these foreign youth leaders were integrated in Lumad communities in the Davao region, Northern Mindanao, Zamboanga Peninsula and Region 12 or Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and the cities therein), where there is military presence.
“The young leaders shared their insights realizing that many calamities occurring around the world, especially in the Philippines, are actually man-made. As they expressed solidarity to the Mindanawon youth who are continuously fighting for land, culture, education, and especially for genuine freedom in the hinterlands, they called on the youth around the world to also stand up and take action,” he said in a text message Sunday afternoon.
In a statement, Vegas’ cousin, Juno, also surnamed Vegas, convenor of Rise for Education Alliance-Southern Mindanao Region, said the Filipino tradition of “Kapit-Bisig” signifies the youth’s collective solidarity around the world in bringing a decisive action to defend Mindanao’s environment from plunder and militarization.
“Our advocacy has gained international support from the Kapit Bisig Kabataan Network US (KBKN), echoing our calls in the international level to save our schools, our environment, and its people – to save Mindanao,”
Jeremy Alvarado De Nieva, a KBKN representative, added the activity exposed him to the social realities that he did not know before.
Among the concerns that government must act on, he said, are “massive human rights violations caused by militarization of communities, the plunder of resources through large-scale multinational mining, attacks on community learning schools for indigenous peoples and poor farmers, insufficient delivery of relief and rehabilitation programs to survivors of natural disasters, and the general lack of food security.”
Vennel Chenfoo, spokesperson for Kabataan partylist, blamed the continuous military encampments in Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon for the displacement of the Lumads.
An interagency group composed of representatives from the Commission on Human Rights, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Department of Social Welfare and Development and Davao City Police Office, went to Haran on July 23 purportedly to fetch the Lumads and bring them back to their villages in the other parts of Davao and Bukidnon.
Officers of the 10th Infantry Division who were invited to the session of the City Council on August 4 to explain their side on the alleged militarization and creation of the Alamara Group that allegedy led to the displacement of the Lumads.
Col. Jake Obligado, commander of 10ID’s Civil Military Operations, said the military did not violate the customary laws of Lumads, as they always pay a courtesy call on tribal leaders before conducting operations.
He said the New People’s Army (NPA) penetrated Talaingod and Kapalong after Typhoon Pablo which struck in December 2012, destroyed their bases in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley.
In a press release, Col. Eduardo Gubat, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), said the Lumads inside the UCCP Haran are “not evacuees but victims of trafficking.”
The press release also quoted Eastmincom chief Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad as saying the presence of the military in the area is because of the presence of the NPA harassing the tribal community.
“Kaya may military kasi may NPA sa area, the AFP mandate is to protect the people,” Baladad was quoted as saying.
On the alleged human rights abuses of the military against the Lumads, Baladad said the military will not tolerate any abuse. “We do not tolerate, we investigate, we punish,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)