Gina Lopez to bring back land, peace to militarized Lumads in Mindanao

Christine C. Cudis - Philstar.com

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - The indigenous people (Lumads), who have been living at the UCCP Haran House in Davao City for more than a year now, had their hopes raised on finally being able to head home without being harassed and killed in the ongoing aggression over their mineral-rich ancestral lands.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Regina Paz Lopez vowed to personally bring them home and offer justice to their slain family members.

On Friday late afternoon, the secretary visited the evacuation center along with her staff and legal counsel to witness the situation of the more than 300 Lumads from Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong in Davao del Norte and Barangay White Kulaman in Bukidnon.

The Lumads have been fighting for their lives as well as their ancestral domain, which they claimed have been taken over by some mining groups and as former Gabriela Representative Luz Ilagan described it, “the military has allowed themselves to be used by these private sectors to get rid of the Lumads, forcibly.”

While Lopez was touring around the make-shift houses of the Lumads, she could not hide her dismay, asking, “How could they live from the mountains and suffer here? This is a polluted environment.”

She added, “I don’t care about any auditing anymore, whoever these mining companies are. I will cancel (their license to operate). That’s illegal, they took over their ancestral domain.”

She also vowed to bring back the Lumads personally “earlier than September.”

“We will give them back their land, and their peace. And apologize a thousand times for having allowed these to happen to them,” she said.

This is not the first time that someone in power offered a hand to the Lumads.

North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco earlier attempted to conduct a dialogue with the victims but have instead instilled more fear as she tried to force the Lumads to leave, using a big group of military and policemen.

The military later sued the Lumad leaders along with militant leaders who were supporting those at Haran house.

Personnel from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also conducted a site visit but have not offered any useful help to the Lumads.

Lopez’s visit brought higher hopes as she represents the very agency that is at the bottom of the militarization of the Lumad communities.

“This time it is a different kind of help and we are positive about this,” said Sheena Duazo of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, who was among those sued for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, whose case had just very recently been dismissed.

DENR Undersecretary Nicanor Perlas said, “Lucky for us, we have a DENR secretary who is pushing for social justice and is really moving for things to happen.”

While in the area, Lopez called the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s (AFP) 10th Infantry Division head Maj. Gen Rafael Valencia to ask regarding the alleged harassment of some soldiers.

Valencia vowed to end the militarization. 

Perlas clarified that they still have to work on some papers to arrive at a well-planned and justifiable decision.

"The secretary will of course have to follow the law, we will undergo a process. But for sure, justice will be served," he said.

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