DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 09 Sept) – The House of Representatives and the Senate have filed separate resolutions to investigate the recent killing of Lumads (Indigenous Peoples), the displacement of hundreds of residents in some towns in Surigao del Sur that led to the death of a four-year old evacuee.
“A four year old child has died in the evacuation center yet no action is being taken by the national government to facilitate the Lumads’ return,” Gabriela partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said in a statement released Wednesday.
Eliza Pangilinan, secretary-general of Karapatan-Caraga told MindaNews Wednedsay night that four-year old Merabel Enriquez, a Lumad from Magkahunaw, Barangay Buhisan in San Agustin town suffered a severe asthma attack at the evacuation center in the sports center in Tandag on Tuesday, was rushed to the hospital but expired there.
Pangilinan said the Enriquez family arrived at the sports center in Tandag City on September 2.
At the Senate, Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Communities, filed Senate Resolution 1575 urging the Senate to conduct an investigation into this “possible case of extrajudicial killings, and on the continued existence of paramilitary groups which I believe must be immediately reviewed and disbanded.
“This situation of Lumads being harassed, killed and displaced will turn into a humanitarian crisis, if the national government does not intervene,” she warned in a press statement issued Wednesday.
“I seek justice for the death of our Lumad leaders. Harassment of indigenous communities in Mindanao must stop,” she said.
At the House of Representatives, House Resolution 2358, introduced last Monday, directed the Committee on Human Rights to “conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, into the extrajudicial killings” of the executive director of an alternative learning center and two others in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on September 1, “allegedly perpetrated by members of the Philippine Army and a paramilitary group.”
Killed were Emerito Samarca, 54, Executive Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, chair of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU), and Campos’ cousin, Aurelio Sinzo.
According to the report of Karapatan-Caraga, Samarca was found dead with a stab wound and a slit open throat inside one of the classrooms of Alcadev in Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, while Campos and Sinzo were reported killed in front of residents rounded up by the perpetrators.
Witnesses pointed to members of the Magahat-Bagani Force, a paramilitary group composed of Lumads and believed to be organized and supported by the military, as the culprits.
The paramlitary group was also implicated in the October 2014 killing of Henry Alameda and Aldren Damaguit.
Last week, Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel asked the Army to “disband and disarm” the Bagani Forces.
“We have been having this kind of problem for the past six years and the Bagani militiamen have been the cause of this problem. This has to stop. The only solution here is for the Army to disband and disarm the Bagani forces. The Army helped in creating this militia group then they should find means to stop and put an end to them,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel said he knows the Army has been working with the Bagani forces in the past.
“It would be hard for the Army to deny that they know these people because members of this Bagani force have been seen within their headquarters. We have seen this militia group carry between 20 to 30 high-powered firearms, which costs around 150,000 pesos each. Where did this tribal group get their assault rifles and ammunitions? Why allow this group to just walk around carrying such firearms?” asked the governor.
“We are appearing inutile as we are helpless to do anything. These people are acting like gods,” said Pimentel.
Col. Isidro Purisima, chief of the Army’s 402nd Brigade under the 4th Infantry Division said they will “support the local government unit and the police in conducting law enforcement operation against armed lawless elements.”
Purisima called on the Bagani forces “to surrender as well as any other armed group in the area which includes the New People’s Army (NPA).”
Purisima acknowledged there is “an ongoing tribal war between several IP groups against the NPA. It is not the Army doing these actions but those IP’s who have pledged to fight against communist aggression.”
Purisima said they “never neglected our duty. In fact (there were) several instances in the past where we took action against the Bagani forces,” he said, citing the incident against Bagani forces on May 11, 2015 at a mining company in Carrascal town.
As of September 4, 2015, the number of internally displaced persons in the evacuation center at the Surigao del Sur Sports Center in Tandag City had reached 501 families or 2,416 individuals.
902 families displaced
The Protection Cluster in the Philippines in a report dispatched on September 9, said three related incidents of threats and harassment by paramilitary and anti-rebel groups against farmers, teachers and Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur had displaced 902 families or around 4,432 persons, in three weeks.
“Since March this year, there has been series of attacks from these groups claiming the lives of 13 civilians composed of mostly leaders of the Manobo tribe in eastern and northern Mindanao,” it said.
The Cluster also released a copy of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees’ Displacement Situation Map of Surigao del Sur which cited NGO reports that on August 9, members of the Bagani paramilitary group “forced their way” into Sitio Nalindog, Barangay Bolhoon in San Miguel town, “rounded up and interrogated villagers including children.” The report said residents were accused of being supporters or members of the NPA.
“The armed group also allegedly pillaged a teachers’ house for the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur causing classes to be suspended at the Nalindog Tribal Community School,” it said, adding the incident triggered the evacuation of 46 families (230 persons) to the municipal gymnasium and day care centers. Another 38 families (200 persons) from four villages also evacuated on August 20, it added.
The Cluster also reported that in the neighboring village of Siagao, also in San Miguel town, 332 families (1,660 persons) were displaced a day after known members of the Bagani Force and uniformed men allegedly from the 36th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army lobbed a grenade in one of the houses in the village and two brothers, both farmers, were shot dead on August 28.
Residents sought refuge at the Barangay Tina gymnasium and Tina Central Elementary School but returned home on August 30 after the local government unit facilitated a dialogue between the residents and the security sector. It also reported that several evacuees in Bolhoon transferred to the Sports Center in Tandag City.
The Cluster reported that following the killing of Semarc and company on September 1, a total of 570 families (2,772) from several villages in the towns of Lianga, Marihatag, San Miguel, San Agustin and Tago, evacuated to the Sports Center in Tandag City.
The Protection Cluster in the Philippines was set up by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (formerly National Disaster Coordinating Council) in May 2007 to provide “more timely and consistent help to the internally displaced and other affected people in complex emergencies and disasters.”
The Cluster involves 100 participating agencies from government, civil society, national and international NGOs and agencies, and the United Nations.
“No campaign to kill”
Asked about the Lumad killings, President Aquino in the “Meet the Inquirer” multimedia forum on Tuesday, replied: “There is no campaign to kill anybody in this country. There is a campaign to go after the culprits of these crimes regardless of who they are.”
“We have an adequate record to show you the successes of people who have long been wanted and have already been apprehended and the process still continues” he said, adding, “serving the people does not entail killing any of our citizens.”
“It is an outrage,” Gabriela partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said of Aquino’s statement which she described as a “blanket denial on the issue of Lumad killings.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Ilagan said the President’s “dismissing it as if it was something imagined instead of expressing the least bit of concern or sympathy or ordering an investigation is a tad short of a tacit approval of what is currently happening in Lumad communities. It is an outrage.”
Aquino’s statement, she added, “practically legitimizes the human rights violations committed against the Lumads by the AFP and its paramilitaries and is an accusation against the Lumads! The Lumads committed no crime and Aquino’s military forces have no business going after them, burning homes and schools or raping Lumad women and children or killing their teachers,” she said, adding the Presdient should, “at the very least order the dismantling of paramilitary groups and the pull out of troops in Lumad territories in Mindanao so that an investigation can ensue and Lumad evacuees can return home.”
“A four year old child has died in the evacuation center yet no action is being taken by the national government to facilitate the Lumads’ return. Aquino still refuses to make true on a campaign promise to revoke Executive Order 546 that legitimizes the existence of paramilitary groups,” Ilagan said.
The Union of Peoples Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) hailed the filing of criminal charges against the perpetrators by the witnesses to the killing and families of the victims and challenged President Aquino and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to immediately act on the case.
The case was filed by UPLM members Antonio Azarcon Gerardo Maglinte and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) volunteer lawyers led by its Surigao del Sur Chapter President, Kutz Melvin Montenegro.
“We hold President Aquino directly responsible for these attacks. His denial that there is no government campaign of extrajudicial killings is betrayed by the 53 indigenous and environmental activists murdered under this government and which litters his “Daang Matuwid”, literally a Dead End laid down by his administration in collusion with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and indigenous paramiltiaries as its ‘force multipliers,’” the UPLM said in a statement.
It also held Aquino responsible for the “unbridled rise of modern warlordism since the Ampatuan Massacre for his failure to scrap Executive Order 546,” and EO signed by Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which “gave rise to the Ampatuan warlords” until the massacre of 58 civilians, including two lawyers and 32 media workers in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.
It said the Aquino administration’s Oplan Bayanihan “which had continually promoted the design of EO 546,” has claimed more lives than the 58 massacred in 2009 and “this is shown in 12 murders of indigenous leaders in the last two weeks.”
The UPLM said they will bring Aquino and the military to court “for these dastardly acts, including before international human rights bodies and the international community.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas with a report from Erwin Mascarinas / MindaNews)