Rep. Catamco declared persona non grata by lumad group

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 July) – North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco has been barred from entering the Haran Evacuation Center in Davao City after she had been declared persona non grata over her derogatory statement against the lumad evacuees last July 14.

In an interview Wednesday, Kerlan D. Fanaqel, secretary general of the Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organization in Southern Mindanao, told reporters that Catamco insulted the lumads for calling their children “stinky” and for questioning the legitimacy of the datus as leaders.

“She can no longer set foot on our evacuation center,” he said. The lumads are in a facility run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).

Fanaqel added that Catamco, chair of the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples (IPs), is missing out the whole picture on the real situation of the lumads after military forces entered their respective communities.

“For taking side with military, for not listening and for refusing to understand the call of the evacuees to pull out the military from the communities, that’s why she has become the spokesperson of AFP,” the lumad group’s statement reads.

Unlike in the previous dialogues, the group added that IPs were not given due respect and understanding when Catamco spearheaded it, along with some other government agencies like the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and the military.

Asked for comment, Catamco was unfazed by the declaration of persona non grata.

“I don’t belong to them,” she said during the AFP-PNP Press Corps forum at the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) Wednesday.

“I’d rather be emotional and passionate. Hindi ako marunong maglambing kung alam ko na tama ang pinaglalaban ko,” she added.

Some 700 lumads from Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and San Fernando in Bukidnon fled their homes after allegedly displaced by military operations.

Catamco’s sincerity was also questioned by making a hasty decision in forcing them to go back without looking into the situation of the communities where the lumads live.

Fanaqel, who hails from Talaingod, said their community used to be peaceful before the military troops came.

He added that the problem on militarization will not be solved, unless military forces be pulled out first before they return to their homes.

Fanaqel said Catamco, who identifies herself as a Manobo tribe member, does not understand the culture and the plight of the lumads.

On calling IPs as not real leaders, he said the communities already recognized them as legitimate leaders as members of Pasaka even if there’s no government agency that says so, claiming this has been part of the tradition of the IPs.

Catamco defended herself, saying that she turned emotional after seeing the condition of the lumads, most especially the children, at the evacuation center.

She added that her statement calling the kids “stinky” was not meant for them but for Gabriela Partylist Representative Luz Ilagan.

“I was talking to Ilagan, appealing to her as a woman, as a mother… Were you not moved? I was moved by my emotion,” she claimed.

In a video presentation, lumads were shown raising their hands when asked by Catamco who among them wanted to go home.

” It’s normal that people raised their hands because they wanted to go home if only there are no military forces,” Fanaqel countered.

Catamco surmised that there might be a group who brought the IPs from their homes to Davao because an evacuation would have not been this organized had there been no one behind this.

“If evacuees, there are so many of them. We know somebody took them here,” she said. “I was angry because they are being controlled and manipulated.”

She said they are set to negotiate with the lumad evacuees again on Thursday but refused to further divulge on how the authorities will go about it.

“Tomorrow, you will know about that,” she said.

The military was allegedly committing human rights violations against the lumads in Talaingod, one such violation was calling their IP leader Benito Bay-ao as a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“Shortly after their return to their homes in February, troops from the 68th IBPA (Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army) with elements from the Alamara trooped to Sitio Dulyan and searched for Benito Bay-ao, a known leader of the Salugpungan. Bay-ao was not in his home during the event, the soldiers encountering Lorena Mandacawan instead, Bay-ao’s sister. The military told Mandacawan that Bay-ao was a member of the NPA, and was being hunted down by the military,” the statement read.

There were also allegations of coercion, threat, intimidation, physical assault and harassment hurled against the military while on a mission in a lumad community.