Bukidnon tribal leaders file human rights complaints vs. Cafgus

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/7 Sept) – Leaders of a tribal community in Bukidnon have filed complaints at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Friday against the more than 20 members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) who allegedly raided their community for gold and cash early last month.

The lumad leaders belong to the community of slain tribal leader Jimmy Liguyon, barangay chairman of Dao in San Fernando town, said to be the center of illegal mining operations in the province. Liguyon opposed mining activities in his community.

The lumad leaders claimed they were harassed last Monday by at least eight masked men at the Bukidnon capitol grounds where they staged a campout.

Before filing the complaint, Datu Nilo Cabungcol, chairperson of Kaugalingong Sistema sa Igpasasindog to Lumadnong Ogpaan (Kasilo), raid victim Tessie Ombo and student activists sought the advise of Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ.

“This will be a test case on political will. If this cannot be resolved in the provincial level, then you can elevate it to the regional level,” Ledesma advised the lumad leaders.

In a text message, Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan dismissed the complaint, campout and protest action of the lumad refugees, saying that the latter are “being used by the abusive Dumagats (non-lumads).”

He said the protesters were only “out to destroy the government because of the gains” in winning the hearts of the people by successfully winning over rebels to return to the fold of the law. He said there were only a very Lumads among the rallyists.

He also said the campout is meant to “discredit rebel returnee(s) and destroy the image of the military.”

But Lt. Col. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesperson of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said in a phone interview that they welcome the filing of complaint as this will give them opportunity to further cleanse their ranks of “undesirables.”

“We will conduct our own internal investigation on the alleged involvement of the Cafgus under Nonong Salusad. If proven guilty, they will face the full brunt of military justice,” said Osias.

“We do not tolerate human rights violators in our ranks,” he added.

Meanwhile, Jomorito Guaynon, chairperson of Kalumbay (a region-wide federation of lumad organizations), criticized Calingasan’s Executive Order 87 that “aims to implement stricter regulations regarding the assembly of individuals staging protests or creating infrastructures within the compounds of the provincial capitol which impedes the normal function of government offices.” Calingasan signed EO 87 on September 3, the same day the protesters were harassed by masked men.

In a statement, Kalumbay blamed the inaction of the combined personnel of the police, army and Capitol Security Unit (CSU) while at least eight masked men destroyed their sound system, snatched their streamers and tarpaulins and one of the masked men riding on motorcycle pointing a Taser (a weapon that will cause temporary paralysis) at one of the protesters.

Student activists were with the 11 Tigwahanon families who camped out at the capitol grounds after fleeing their homes in Sitio Kirangol, Barangay Dao, San Fernando town when the unidentified men disrupted their program.

“Contrary to the EO, the group strongly affirms that the right of the individuals to free speech and assembly as enshrined in the bill of rights of the 1987 Philippine Constitution are universal and absolute. Unless the country is in a period of martial law, the state shall not create laws that shall impede the exercise of democratic protests,” Guaynon said in an emailed statement.

The civic-political group Bangon Kagay-an based here issued a statement in solidarity with the lumads and called on government “to do their job of protecting its people and to enforce the laws without fear or favor.”

“Today, we stand in solidarity with the lumads and the people of San Fernando, Bukidnon in denouncing the violence wrought by the paramilitary group of some predatory miners, who through all these years have formed a devious network of vested interests in connivance with the very people mandated to implement our environmental laws,” the statement reads.

Bangon Kagay-an chairperson Nixon Baban also demanded the rule of law and the disarming of all paramilitary groups who “tend to protect and advance the selfish ends of greed and power.” (Cong B. Corrales / MindaNews)