CHR execs hold dialogue with lumad leaders
(The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Officials of the Commission on Human Rights on Friday held a dialogue with lumad leaders at the CHR central office in Quezon City over the attacks in indigenous communities that drove thousands out of their ancestral lands in Mindanao.

“The situation is getting grave… We need to provide education to the children who are there. People are getting sick, so the Department of Health needs to assist,” said CHR chairman Chito Gascon, who remained composed during the two-hour dialogue but broke down when he spoke to reporters shortly after the meeting.

“But over the long term, what they need is peace of mind. They need to know that if they go back to their communities, they will be safe,” he added.

Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay challenged CHR officials to do their job and protect human rights.

Leaders of indigenous communities in the provinces of Davao del Norte, Bukidnon, Cotabato and Surigao del Sur sought the help of the CHR to intervene in the continuing attacks in their communities by alleged paramilitary groups.

Monico Cayog, chairman of Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran), said 58 lumads – mostly community leaders –have been killed since 2010.

“It seems like there is a martial law even if the President has not declared it,” Cayog told CHR officials in Filipino.

Among those who attended the dialogue was Michelle Campos, daughter of slain community leader Dionel Campos, who called for an investigation on the spate of attacks in their ancestral lands and asked for help in attaining justice for their slain relatives.

The elder Campos, along with another lumad leader Aurelio Sinzo, was executed by alleged members of the Magahat paramilitary force in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1.

On the same day, the body of Emerito Samacra, executive director of lumad-led Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture, was found inside the school compound.

Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel said a task force composed of police and military operatives has been formed to hunt down the suspects in the killings, identified as Loloy and Bobby Tejero, Margarito Layno and 20 other members of the Magahat group.

Pimentel said the task force was formed following a meeting with Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, and provincial police director Sr. Supt. Narciso Verdadero.

The task force is headed by Verdadero.

Upon learning of the creation of the task force, Bagani tribal group spokesman Datu Dangpanan told The STAR that the manhunt for the Magahat members would be difficult and bloody.

Public inquiry

Gascon said the CHR would conduct a public inquiry into the issue in Davao City next week. He said they have invited military officials to join the event.

The military is being accused of creating paramilitary forces as augmentation in their campaign against the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels operating in lumad communities.

Lumad leaders claimed that the military armed the locals who were behind the spate of killings in the area.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines denied this, saying a tribal conflict was the motive for the attacks. Military officials accused former NPA members as being behind the creation of the paramilitary forces.

Gascon said the inquiry would seek to understand the root causes of the incidents in Mindanao and would aim to shed light on the real situation of the indigenous communities.

“Our approach is to try to understand the difficult situation that all lumads are experiencing, understand the root causes and recommend initiatives,” he said.

Auxiliary forces

Gascon called on the government to review its policy of augmenting the military by creating auxiliary forces that have no proper training to do the work of the military.

He urged the government to withdraw support from paramilitary groups which have been engaged in atrocities.

“These paramilitary groups should be disarmed and disbanded and their leaders who have committed crimes brought to justice,” he said.

Gascon appealed to the military involved in armed conflicts with the NPA to follow the rules of engagement and avoid militarizing communities.

He also called on the NPA to comply with international humanitarian law.

“They too must be held accountable for any atrocities that they may have undertaken in the lumad communities,” he said.

The CHR chief asked the lumad leaders to cooperate in their investigation.

Journalist tagged as CPP asset

Meanwhile, a Facebook page containing anti-communism posts has accused veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona of being an asset of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) for her articles on the lumad crisis.

Varona, who contributes to ABS-CBN News online, said she is not taking the post lightly and considers it a threat.

A former campaign director of petition platform, Varona has followed the plight of the lumads and has published numerous articles on the atrocities committed against indigenous communities in Mindanao.

The post accused the journalist of being one-sided, although some of her contacts have disputed this by showing proof that she has attended the press conference of the military to hear their side.

Varona was among those who criticized the military when it supposedly distorted the view of a United Nations official over the crisis.

Col. Eduardo Gubat of the Army’s Eastern Mindanao Command resigned after apologizing to UN special rapporteur on human rights of internally displaced persons Chaloka Beyani with regard to the “oversight” in the presentation of his views.

Meanwhile, a group of ministers of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) belonging to the Southern Mindanao District Conference (SMDC) has joined the clamor to end the abuses against indigenous peoples (IPs) in Davao City.

In a letter addressed to the SMDC and signed by 13 UCCP ministers, the group condemned what it described as “a grave violence committed against our Ata-Manobo brothers and sisters.”

Owned by the UCCP, Haran is a compound on Father Selga street in Davao City where some 700 Ata-Manobos and other IPs from Davao and nearby provinces are housed.

Reports said these people went to Davao City to seek refuge from the fighting and militarization in their ancestral lands.

But in their letter, the UCCP ministers said these IPs were not displaced from their communities.

“They went to Haran because they were instructed, hauled and deceived by certain people,” they said.

The tribal council of the Langilan Manobo Tribe in Davao del Norte said they were used as protesters during the rallies instigated by the militant organizations.

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