MINDANAO 2015: A violent year for the Lumads (First of two parts)

On Sept. 1, in Sitio Han-ayan, Brgy. Diatagon in Lianga town in Surigao del Sur, members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani allegedly killed three Lumad (indigenous peoples) leaders: Emerito Samarca, executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, chair of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu); and Mapasu member Datu Juvello Sinzo.

The incident, which forced some 3,000 residents of Han-ayan and neighboring villages to flee to the sports complex in Tandag City, the provincial capital, caught the attention of media as well as the Senate committees on justice and human rights, and cultural communities, which held a public hearing on the killings in Tandag on Oct. 1-2.

But the killings of their leaders were just among the problems the Lumads had to face; they also had to contend with other attacks such as the closure, burning and occupation of their schools allegedly by soldiers and fellow Lumads who have joined paramilitary groups.

Moreover, a fact-finding mission conducted weeks after the Han-ayan killings concluded that an economic motive lies behind the attacks against Lumad communities — the entry of mining companies in ancestral domains.

Lumad schools under attack

Statements coming from the military accused Lumad schools, including Alcadev, as fronts of the New People’s Army. Reports said that in some areas the military has converted schools for Lumads into camps forcing the teachers and students to abandon them. In some instances, schools were destroyed, burned and ransacked.

In a statement issued on Nov. 14, Rius Valle, spokesperson of Save Our Schools Network said their group documented 95 cases of attacks on schools reportedly by soldiers and paramilitary men all over Mindanao since September 2014.

Rius cited efforts by government to “militarize” education [in Lumad areas]. He said in Northern Mindanao, the 4th Infantry Division “tapped about 125 Lumad soldiers for an education program which will be provided by the Department of Education. By the end of the year, they are scheduled to be deployed in 35 pilot villages where they are said to organize their respective Alternative Learning System units”.

He added that Dr. Josephine Fadul, Davao del Norte Schools Division Superintendent, requested the closure of three Lumad schools in the province before the opening of school year 2015-2016, and the construction of a new public school with soldiers as para-teachers.

Reports quoted Fadul as saying she based her request on the failure of the three schools to renew their permits to operate for the current school year and to obtain clearance from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. She also clarified that tapping soldiers as para-teachers was just one of the options and not final.

But Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, in a statement dated 29 May 2015 said the Department of Education should not allow itself to be used in the Armed Forces’ counterinsurgency campaign.

“If Dr. Fadul does not see the value of these tribal schools and if she is proving to be a hindrance to the development and learning of the lumad children then the DepEd is no place for her. She should explain,” Ilagan said.

Another school for Lumad children was closed on Oct. 23 in Barangay White Kulaman in Kitaotao, Bukidnon.

SOS Network in Southern Mindanao said village officials forcibly closed and destroyed the gate of the school named after slain Italian missionary Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, an anti-mining advocate, in the company of soldiers in civilian clothes.

In a press release on the same day, the 403rd Infantry Brigade in Malaybalay City said “no soldiers were involved in the closure” of the Fr. FaustoTentorio Memorial School run by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI). The military said it was the barangay council led by barangay chair Felipe Cabugnason that closed the school for “lack of legal documents such as permit to operate, and as threat to the safety of the people living in their barangay.”

The closure of the school named after Fr. Tentorio was not to be the last attack on schools for Lumad in Mindanao. On Nov. 12, a teachers’ cottage of the Alcadev school in Barangay Pad-ay in Sibagat, Agusan del Sur was burned. SOS Network blamed the military for the incident, an allegation denied by the Eastern Mindanao Command which said in a Nov. 13 statement that the perpetrators disguised themselves as soldiers of the 23rd Infantry Battalion.

Karapatan-Caraga said Alcadev temporarily closed its school in Sibagat after the killing of Samarca and his companions and after its teachers and students were warned they would be massacred.

Barely two weeks after, another Lumad school in Barangay Mangayon in Compostela town, Compostela Valley was turned into a camp for a platoon of soldiers.

Blood for minerals?

Aside from Han-ayan residents, the evacuees who fled to Tandag on Sept. 1 after the killing of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo included people from 26 other villages in the towns of Lianga, San Agustin, San Miguel, Marihatag and Tago. A month after, around 1,000 Lumads from Barangay Mahaba in Marihatag town also evacuated due to a military operation that involved paramilitary elements.

The five towns, along with Cagwait, form the Andap Valley Complex, the site of several clashes between government forces and the NPA since the Martial Law years that have caused evacuations and human rights abuses blamed on security forces.

A report on the results of an international fact-finding mission conducted on Oct. 26-30 linked counterinsurgency in Surigao del Sur to the entry of mining interests in the province. It said the central motive behind the Lumad killings and military operations is “the rich mineral resources in the Andap Valley Complex around which these communities and municipalities are clustered”.

The report said mining companies have put in place their mining machinery and security outposts “while the communities are in forcible evacuation”.

It added the communities and their organizations have resisted “destructive mining of their ancestral lands,” and the coal-rich Andap Valley Complex “is declared by these and other environment and indigenous peoples’ organizations as Ancestral Land At Risk of Mining site (ALARM site) since 2009 that must be protected to preserve the Manobo communities that thrive within the valley”.

According to http://www.doe.gov.ph/PECR5/index.php/area-1-surigao-del-sur (accessed on Nov. 13), the operating permits granted to mining firms cover areas within Andap Valley Complex, the towns of Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza and Tandag City, as well as Sibagat, Bunawan and Trento towns in neighboring Agusan del Sur.

Some leaders of Lumad paramilitary groups have also ventured into mining. For instance, Calpit Egua, who is based in Sta. Irene, Prosperidad town in Agusan del Sur, runs a small-scale gold mining operation in parts of San Miguel. The mission report said Egua has been accused of forcing local communities to recognize his claims on farmlands and gold mine areas. A military report on the Sept. 1 killings in Han-ayan admitted that Calpit leads an armed group that operates in San Miguel.

A MindaNews report (Oct. 9) quoted Jomar Bocales, a member of the paramilitary group that allegedly killed Samarca and company, as having said Calpit also runs a gold mine site in the boundary of Barangay La Purisima in Prosperidad and Barangay San Juan in Bayugan town, Agusan del Sur.

Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Civil Relations Service, said during the Senate hearing that the NPA had allowed the datus (tribal chieftains) to negotiate with logging and mining companies on the “sharing between how much money they get from these companies”. But sometime in 2004 and 2005, the NPA decided it should be the one to negotiate with the companies, an arrangement that the datus “resented”.

Ola Almgren, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Manila, likewise cited the link between the exploitation of natural resources and the human rights violations against the Lumads.

Almgren, speaking at the Progressive Ideas and Perspectives Learning Series session on Dec. 8 in Malacanang, said pressures exerted by mining and logging interests have threatened the survival of the Lumads “given the inextricable ties between their life and their land”. He shared the mission’s view that such pressures have resulted in serious abuses “including threats, displacement and loss of life”. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)

Tomorrow: ‘Unholy Alliance,’ Impunity