DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 Sept) – A partylist representative on Thursday called for total pullout of military troops and disbandment of the paramilitary group “Alamara” who the lumads claimed have perpetrated several human rights violations in their communities, forcing them to seek refuge in Davao City and other areas since May this year.
Gabriela partylist Rep. Luz Ilagan appeared before the public inquiry on the “human rights situation of the IP in Mindanao facing threats of displacement and those encamped in UCCP Haran” conducted by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) at the Apo View Hotel in Davao City on Thursday.
She said military presence frightens the lumads in the hinterlands after a string of reported human rights abuses and the alleged recruitment of lumads to join the paramilitary group.
“If their reasons are they have been harassed and their communities have been militarized, then the reasons should be removed,” she said.
The representative also wanted the soldiers and the members of Alamara, who were allegedly behind the abuses such as killing, rape, and harassment, be held accountable, otherwise the culture of impunity will continue.
Ilagan was part of the team that set out on a fact-finding mission last July 13 in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. Other members of the team were Bayan-Muna partylist Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and North Cotabato 2nd distirict Rep. Nancy Catamco, who is also present chair of the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples.
This after some 700 lumads fled their homes in Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and San Fernando in Bukidnon reportedly due to militarization.
The fact-finding team attested that there were indeed military troops encamping a few meters away from the school grounds.
Citing the residents, Ilagan added that the lumads were told by the military to stop sending their children to Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) Academy, calling the institution as an “NPA school.”
In the dialogue, she said some military men in civilian clothes sat in to “spy” on the discussion and later took pictures of them. After which, she said they returned to a tent that was set up across where the forum was held.
From July 13 to 15, the legislators also held a dialogue with the lumads in Haran, an evacuation center run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).
But Ilagan narrated she was shocked when Catamco brought military men that earned the ire of the lumads, forcing them to continue their dialogue at the Apo View Hotel in the city with some of the lumad leaders.
Catamco also reportedly raised her voice at Ilagan when the latter told her she could no longer join in the next dialogue. “She told me ‘just go, you can go’. That was so unparliamentary of her,” Ilagan said.
In her previous statement, Catamco said her emotional outburst stemmed from her desire to send the lumads back home, considering their poor situation in the evacuation center.
“I’d rather be emotional and passionate. Hindi ako marunong maglambing kung alam ko na tama ang pinaglalaban ko,” she added.
On July 15, a commotion between Catamco and the lumads happened after she berated the IPs for staying in the evacuation center and called their kids stinky. Since then, she was declared persona non-grata by the lumads and has since been barred from entering the facility.
On July 23, Catamco and some 500 policemen in anti-riot gear, stormed Haran in a failed attempt to force them to return home. A total of 10 buses and 12 trucks coming from the lumads’ respective local government units were provided.
Human rights defender Sheena Duazo, secretary general of Bayan-Southern Mindanao Region, who also appeared in the public inquiry, added it was a violent raid in the guise of rescue operation.
Zarate said they could have reached an agreement with the lumads had Catamco behaved properly.
“Then and there, she wanted the lumads to go home,” he said.
He added everything needs to undergo a process, including a dialogue with the lumads, and reach an agreement with them.
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Human Rights conducted a hearing last month where teachers of the lumad schools recalled the human rights abuses of the soldiers against them.
Ronnie Garcia, principal of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) in Sitio Dulian, Barangay Palma Gil, Davao Del Norte, complained that military forces allegedly harassed them by putting up military encampments inside their school campuses and by labeling their institution as a “communist school.”
He said the first direct military encampment in their campus in Sitio Dulian, Davao del Norte happened in 2011 and had since spread to other campuses until 2014. Garcia added that even as there has been no case of direct military encampment inside their campus since last year, the red-tagging of their institution and their teachers as members of the NPA has continued until today, forcing some of the parents to stop their children from attending classes
In his sworn affidavit, Ricky Balilid, a Grade 5 teacher of Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. Academy (MISFI Academy) at Sitio Muling, Brgy. Gupitan, Kapalong in Davao del Norte, narrated that last February 6, more than 100 members of the paramilitary group “Alamara,” who he surmised was the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) headed by a certain Lito Masaloon, arrived in their community at 3:15 p.m. passing through their school campus.
“The teachers of MISFI Academy, together with the students, felt anxious since they (Alamara/Cafgu) were carrying high-powered rifles. And since the school is 150 meters away from the community, the teachers decided to suspend the classes and the students were sent home early. The Alamara/Cafgu stayed and rested in their community,” he said.
The teachers demanded that the military pull out its forces and stop the vilification that they are NPA members and their institutions as that of the rebel group’s.
Capt. Alberto Caber, chief of the Public Information Office (PIO) and spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom), said the military cannot just pull out its troops in the communities because they are there to protect the villagers and government projects, and stop alleged extortion activities by the NPA.
He also denied that the military has hands in the paramilitary group “Alamara.”
“That is not true. We are doing security patrols because the villagers themselves report to the military units for protection,” Caber said. He added they risk the lives of their men while conducting operations to give protection.
A directive was also reportedly issued for military personnel to stay out of the school campuses.