‘Bantula’ vows quick response to human rights violations in Bukidnon

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/09 March) – A multi-sectoral human rights coordinating council called Bantula, a Binukid dialect for “bell” or “alarm,” has vowed to conduct quick response and fact-finding missions on human rights abuses involving Bukidnon’s indigenous peoples, farmers and internally displaced persons or “bakwits.”

In a press conference on Tuesday, lawyer Rochelle Daraga, of the Commission on Human Rights CHR Regional Office 10, said the group aims to protect the human rights of marginalized people and provide timely assistance to them in case of abuses.

“The resolution for human rights violations cannot be done by government institutions and limited concerned organizations alone. It takes a community to fight human rights abuse[s],” the group said in a statement.

The group, which also seeks to “foster unity, equality, justice, and peace within the province,” includes both duty and rights holder groups, or those state/non-state actors and those with valid claims, respectively.

Daraga said the group also intends to provide communities in need of paralegal trainings, advocacy programs and other services that each member office or organization renders.

Bantula was created following the Community-based Human Rights Dialogue held in July 2012, convened by the Alternative Law Group (ALG).

Carl “Cocoy” Rebuta, ALG representative, said that Bukidnon “is a melting pot of human rights issues” especially resource conflicts, citing the province’s plantation economy and agro-industrial set up.

He said Bukidnon is one of the many areas in the country where they organized Bantula as a mechanism to address human rights problems.

Yoyong Merida, chair of the Panaw Sumilao Multi-Purpose Cooperative, said one of the reasons the farmers’ group joined the council is because it provides an avenue for them to be able to talk to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in cases of land conflicts.

“The AFP and the PNP are the [convenient] forces used by landlords against those asserting their rights over lands,” he added.

Merida cited that in some cases, the land conflict pits the Lumads and the agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Senior Supt. Orlando Beñas, Bukidnon police director, expressed support to Bantula, noting that there has been “limited institutional support to a police officer facing charges of human rights violations.”

Capt. Eduardo Meclat Jr, civil military operations (CMO) officer of 403rd Infantry Brigade, also welcomed the council, citing the military has put in place its own human rights mechanisms.

The group explained that they used the metaphor of the Bantula “to signify alarm in times of distress to protect the lives of innocent people in the community.”

But Datu Magdalino Pandian, mandatory IP representative to the provincial board, said they were unable to help resolve the problem of the Lumads in Barangay Dao, San Fernando, Bukidnon, where Jimmy Liguyon, the village chief, was killed on March 5, 2012.

“Those affected are using another system.  It’s not the traditional Lumad (way of resolving conflict),” he added.

Pandian said the family and the support groups, in their search for justice for Liguyon, did not agree to resolve the problem through the traditional means.

He cited that a case was filed before the Regional Trial Court, which issued a warrant of arrest for primary suspect Aldy Salusad, who has yet to be arrested.

“If they give it to us (to resolve), we can solve it,” Pandian added.

Bantula is composed of the CHR, AFP, PNP, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Department of Agrarian Reform. Other members include civil society organizations like the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, LRC-KSK/Friends of Environment –Philippines, Balaod Mindanao, Inc., Bukidnon Unified Tribal Council of Elders, Indigenous Peoples’ Apostolate, Social Action Center, Panaw Sumilao Multi-Purpose Cooperative, and Task force Detainees of the Philippines. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)