Lumads caught in AFP-NPA conflict, says international group

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SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 Aug) – Indigenous people in the Philippines are caught in the middle of the conflict between the military and the New People’s Army and could hardly “cope with their repeated dislocations and the accumulated effects of property loss or damage and income decline,” according to a recently published report by the Swiss-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC).

“Caught between the two warring parties, the Lumads are exposed to high levels of violence and are at risk of abuses by both sides,” the IDMC said in its 42-page report titled “Living in the Shadows: Displaced Lumads locked in a Cycle of Poverty” released this month in time for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on August 9.

Frederik Kok, IDMC senior country analyst, said in an email to MindaNews that in this year’s occasion, his organization gave special attention to the plights of the Lumads in Mindanao.

The report is the highlight in the IDMC’s website (internal-displacement.org) as of this writing, occupying the topmost spot.

The group noted that many of the NPA fighters are Lumads recruited in their communities in the mountains. “As a result the military tend to perceive and suspect Lumads of predominantly being NPA insurgents or supporters. As part of its counterinsurgency strategy the Army is also encouraging Lumad communities to form or join civil defence militias or paramilitary groups to help fight the NPA,” the report added.

“There are reports of violations of a number of human rights and of international humanitarian law (IHL). These include indiscriminate bombardments, the use of schools as barracks and command centres, harassment, threats, forced labour, restricted freedom of movement and extra-judicial killings that are contributing to a climate of fear and insecurity and leading to displacements,” the report’s executive summary noted.

The IDMC noted that when the Lumads are displaced, their fields become neglected, leading to crop losses and failures. “Their homes are looted or destroyed during the fighting or immediate aftermath, and on returning, they are forced to rebuild from scratch. This cycle of violence and displacement is eroding their asset base and driving them deeper into poverty,” it added.

The group noted that while government agencies attend to displaced Lumads, “assistance tends to be short-term and often inadequate.”

Among the IDMC’s recommendations is for the government and the communist rebels to resume formal peace talks and thus spare the Lumads from the effects of war.

It likewise advised the military to regulate its entry to Lumad communities, and refrain from setting up camps within the communities or using schools as barracks or command centers.

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