DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 Sept) – Amid allegations of human rights violations committed by some military personnel, the spokesman of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) hit militant groups on Wednesday, calling their accusations as “black propaganda” to make the government appear that it is not doing its part in addressing the concerns of the lumads in the hinterlands.
Capt. Alberto Caber, chief of the EastMinCom’s Public Information Office (PIO), said during the AFP/PNP press conference at the Garden by the Bay here that the militants want to derail the operations of the military and the delivery of government services to the far-flung areas where the lumads live.
He called the “black propaganda” initiated by leftists that hype up human rights violations as their “way of life.”
“There is no problem with the entry of the Army to the communities. The problem is when these are infiltrated by the New People’s Army (NPA),” he said.
The presence of the rebel forces in the communities, Caber claimed, hamper government services from reaching the indigenous people.
He said that before the Army enters lumad communities, they hold consultations and get the approval of the local government units (LGUs), including the mayors.
Gabriela-Southern Mindanao spokesperson Mary Ann Sapar said militant groups are not putting down the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but the actions committed by some of their officers.
“Data show how the military abuse the lumads. For example, who raped ‘Tess,’ the 14-year-old lumad in Talaingod? Isn’t the soldiers? How about ‘Jessa’ in Bukidnon?” she asked.
Sapar added that militant groups are there to be watchdogs of the abuses “committed by the AFP so that lumads will live peacefully in their ancestral land away from fear.”
League of Filipino Students (LFS) Southern Mindanao Region spokesperson Joyce Pepetua lamented that the Army calls itself as promoters of peace and development.
“We condemn the AFP’s brutal acts and attack on Lumads. They can’t be called as the Army that promotes ‘peace and development’ but warmongers and chaos-starters,” she said.
Pepetua called on President Benigno Aquino III, as the chief of the AFP, to step down.
She said they are going to White Culaman in Kitaotao, Bukidnon to join the “Help! Kitaotao Bukidnon Humanitarian and Peace Mission” to validate and document human rights violations reported. Pepetua allege that on Aug. 26, the Army’s 8th and 23rd Infantry Battalions ransacked a lumad community and detained civilians.
She claimed there have been 58 lumads killed and 20,000 lumad peasants forcibly evacuated since 2010 due to military operations.
“The AFP could lie through their teeth but beyond statistics, lumads stories of anguish will tell the truth. These are not mere black propaganda but a call to stop the killing and the human rights violations,” Pepetua stressed.
Sheena Duazo, secretary general of Bayan Southern Mindanao Region, said that the military’s denial of the human violations is a move to evade from the issue.
“The militant support groups are in the forefront of exposing human rights violations perpetrated by the military and its paramilitary groups, that is why the AFP is trying to silence and discredit militants in order to confuse and deceive the public. It is a desperate attempt to hide the truth,” she added.
Duazo alleged the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan has displaced lumads from their ancestral domains and even killed some of them to allegedly protect the interests of foreign and large mining companies.
“Aquino’s government through AFP unleashed its monstrous attack against the lumads who are defending their ancestral lands. The exodus of thousands of lumads in Mindanao is a form of resistance, a movement with historical significance as they, the lumads, assert their rights against development aggressions and modern ethnocide,” Duazo added.
Teachers from schools run by lumad organizations in Davao del Norte, during the congressional hearing on human rights last month, demanded for pullout of military forces and disbandment of paramilitary group called “Alamara.”
However, Caber reiterated that their troops assigned in the lumad communities cannot be pulled out because they are there to protect the villagers and government projects from the NPA.