Lumads, advocates mark fifth year since Lianga killings

Lumads, advocates mark fifth year since Lianga killings
Lumads and advocates hold a candle-lighting activity in the Lumad Bakwit School on September 1, 2020.
Save Our Schools Network, release

MANILA, Philippines — Lumads and advocates on Tuesday marked the fifth year since Lianga massacre, when Lumad leaders were killed — allegedly by members of a paramilitary group — in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

The killings of Manobo leaders Dionel Campos, Aurelio Sinzo and ALCADEV school director Emerico Samarca in September 2015 forced residents to evacuate and they were only able to return to the community a year later.

The killings triggered a Senate hearing and calls for those behind the killings to be arrested. There were also calls to disarm and disband the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group said to be responsible for the massacre.

Lumad rights advocates have pointed out that the paramilitary group's leader is still free and has even been featured in interviews.

"Limang taon na ang lumipas, ngunit nananatiling sariwa sa isip ng mga pamilyang Lumad ang mga pamamaslang (Five years have passed but the memory of the killings is still fresh in our minds)," Manobo group Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU, or Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation), said in a statement.

It said the anniversary of the killings is a day to commemorate the struggles of the Lumads.

"Ngayong araw, ang mamamayang Lumad na bahagi ng MAPASU ay mainit na nakikiisa sa lahat ng mamamayan at Lumad sa rehiyon ng Caraga sa kanilang patuloy na paglaban at matapang na pagsulong sa pakikibaka para depensahan ang lupang ninuno, kultura, kalikasan at kalayaan," it said.

(Today, the Lumads of MAPASU are in solidaroty with the people and the Lumads of Caraga in their continuing struggle to defend our ancestral lands and culture as well as the environment and our freedom)

RELATED: IP rights advocates wary of using 'idle' ancestral domain as food production areas

In a separate commemoration in Metro Manila, Lumad evacuees at the Lumad Bakwit School lit candles to mark the day of the massacre and the end of Indigenous Peoples' Month.

"Today, September 1, we remember the Lianga Massacre, which claimed the lives of [Samarca, Campos and Sinzo]," Rius Valle, spokesperson of the Save Our Schools Network, said in a statement.

"On September 5, we will also honor Obello Bay-ao, a Lumad student in Talaingod. All of them were killed by state sponsored paramilitary groups."

Lumad groups and the SOS Network also called for 20 paramilitary groups that they said have been harassing and attacking Lumad communities, some members of which have been staying in UP Diliman.

"These Lumad paramilitary groups include the 'Alamara' in Southern Mindanao, 'Bagani' and 'Magahat' in Surigao, Task Force Gantangan, Wild Dogs and NIPAR in Northern Mindanao, all have notorious records of killing legitimate community leaders and harassing members of Lumad schools.

Valle said that the Bagani paramilitary group last week attacked a Lumad community in San Fernando, Bukidnon and "destroyed not only the school of Misfi (Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc.) Academy, but they destroyed the children's dreams of being able to finish school for their community."

MAPASU, in its statement, said that attacks against Lumads have been increasing as it disputed claims by the Armed Forces of the Philippines that the Lumad community had requested that a military detachment be put up in the sitios of Simowao, Kilometer 16 and Manluy-a in Barangay Diatogon. 

It said that the community has repeatedly opposed heavy military presence in the area. "Dumaan na kami sa serye ng pormal na dayologo, petisyon, position paper at pagpanawagan sa mga istasyon ng radyo," MAPASU also said.

(We have gone through a series of formal dialogues, petitions, petition papers, and appeals on the radio)

According to a March 2020 MindaNews report on the heavy military presence in Lianga, the Manobo community is worried that they will get caught in the crossfire between government forces and the New People's Army, which has been happening for decades.

The same report quotes Lt. Krisjuper Andreo Punsalan, civil-military officer of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion, as saying the NPA uses the Lumads as human shields. He also said MAPASU organizes staged evacuations to "gain sympathy and financial assistance from international funding organizations."

RELATED: Troops sent to Lianga evacuation site as standard procedure, military says

— Jonathan de Santos

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