DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 Oct) – Around 1,000 lumads and human rights defenders from all over Mindanao will converge in Surigao City on October 18 to join the nationwide campaign dubbed “Manilakbayan ng Mindanao” to call on the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to stop human rights abuses and the killings of indigenous peoples allegedly by the military.
Delegates from South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Davao City, Davao del Norte and Bukidnon will travel to Manila for the “Salubungan sa UP Diliman,” a torch parade to greet the coming of the contingent. From October 26 to 31, the contingent will hold “Kampuhan sa UP Diliman.”
The march will start at the Quezon City Circle to the University Avenue.
The Manilakbayan event started October 13 and will end November 1 with a march towards Plaza Miranda to stage a protest rally.
Speaking in Monday’s Kapehan sa Dabaw at SM City Davao, Bay Ali Indayla, secretary-general of Kawagib Moro Human Rights, lamented how slow justice is given to the victims of human rights abuses, citing a report from the Department of National Defense (DND) that out of the 97 cases of human rights abuses, one soldier has so far been convicted since 2001.
She added that military operations such as the counter-insurgency measures implemented in the lumad communities have disturbed their way of life by allegedly arming them and making them join the paramilitary groups. Indayla said the military presence has displaced several lumads in their communities and transferred to the Haran Evacuation Center, a facility run by the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP), to seek refuge for five months now.
Around 700 lumads from Talaingod, Kapalong in Davao del Norte, and San Fernando in Bukidnon arrived in the city since May this year.
But Jhong Manzon, secretary-general of Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organization in Southern Mindanao, said only around 500 have decided to stay while others have returned to their communities despite the “threats”.
“Unless the military pull out its troops, they will not return to their communities,” he said.
In an emailed statement to MindaNews, Ellen Manlibaas, chairperson of Kahugpongan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Kitaotao (KMK, United Peasants in Kitaotao), said 165 more lumads displaced by alleged militarization from the Barangay White Culaman, Kitaotao in Bukidnon arrived Monday at Haran.
“The sorry plight of the people in White Culaman started last August 25 when elements from the 8th and 23rd Infantry Battalions trooped to their communities and illegally arrested 13 farmers, mostly leaders of KMK and Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Barangay White Culaman (NAMABAW),” she said.
Some evacuees had fled to a parish run by Italian priest Fr. Peter Geremia in Arakan, North Cotabato, colleague of slain missionary Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, the statement read.
“We will not return, until we are assured that the military have left our communities, to allow us to live and farm in peace, and the perpetrators of human rights violations from the 8IB and the 23IB are punished for their crimes,” Manlibaas said.
Manzon added, “By allowing the military to oppress innocent civilians, it is becoming clearer that the government does not answer to the need of its constituents, and that the only answer to this problem is for the people to unite in resistance and forging of their own future.”
In an interview with MindaNews last September 29, Datu Lumansad Sibogan, a member of the board of trustees of the Ata-Manobo Tribal Council of Elders Association Talaingod, urged outsiders to let the lumads resolve internal conflicts.
The datu wishes that conflict resolution be done through their own ways and tradition based on their customary laws that have governed the indigenous people since time immemorial and not through the mediation of any group.
Some 200 lumads from Talaingod fled their homes last May, claiming they wanted to escape militarization that has reportedly brought human rights abuses by the military and the paramilitary group “Alamara.”
Capt. Alberto Caber, chief of the Public Information Office (PIO) and spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom), said that the military cannot just pull out its troops in the communities as they are detailed there to protect the villagers, government projects, and alleged extortion by the New People’s Army (NPA). He denied involvement of the military in the operations of mining companies and the creation of so-called paramilitary group “Alamara.”