Lumad evacuees face harassment, lack of water and food
Residents of Lumad communities have been living in the Barangay Diatagon gym or with relatives since they left their areas on July 16.

Lumad evacuees face harassment, lack of water and food

(Philstar.com) - July 25, 2018 - 6:07pm

MANILA, Philippines — Lumads taking temporary shelter in a village gym in Lianga, Surigao del Sur are suffering from a lack of water and from tight security measures by the military, according to updates from the ground on Wednesday.

The update comes in the same week that an international NGO said the Philippines was the deadliest for environment defenders in Asia in 2017.

In a post by Higala: Friends of the Lumad in Caraga, Fr. Fortunato Estillore of the Indigenous People's Apostolate of the Diocese of Tandag said there is no access to water for drinking or for cleaning. There are no toilet facilities at the gym either.

More than 1,600 residents of Lumad communities in Lianga and San Agustin, Surigao del Sur have spent nearly 10 days at the gymnasium or with relatives to avoid soldiers who have been sent to their areas to guard against the New People's Army, which operates in parts of the province.

The  evacuees left their ancestral lands in response to “brutal militarization and human rights violations” committed by the Army's 75th Infantry Battalion and paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani, according to environmental organization Caraga Watch.

They sought shelter at a gymnasium in Brgy. Diatogon, Lianga and soon found themselves surrounded by soldiers, who were there as “standard procedure.” They are reportedly being pressured to return to their homes despite their anxiety and fear for their safety.

The Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group—implicated in the deaths of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development school director Emerito Samarca and indigenous peoples' leaders Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo in 2015—was in front of the evacuation center and "addressing the evacuees (over a PA system), accusing them of being NPA supporters."

READTroop presence prompts Lumad evacuation in Surigao del Sur town, group says

"The area is very congested—the air is humid and the odor is foul due to the lack of comfort rooms," Estillore said, adding there is no privacy or ample sleeping space for children, mothers or the elderly.

He said many have started coughing because of the dust and humidity in the center. "If the bakwit (evacuees) are unable to return to their homes or if they are unable to get some relief from their current conditions, more people will only get sick and their situation will worsen," he said.

According to a MindaNews report, the local government cannot release aid because there is no official declaration of a calamity. The military's 401st Infantry Brigade earlier said that the Lumads were not in danger and were only evacuating as a form of protest.

Soldiers have been posted near an evacuation center where residents of indigenous peoples' communities had fled in response to troops in their area. Kasalo Caraga, file

'Harassment' continues

Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development Inc. (ALCADEV) told Philstar.com in an online exchange Wednesday that the harassment of Lumad communities by military forces has intensified.

“There are individuals who are receiving death threats. We want to move to but we are being obstructed by soldiers. Even support from other groups are being blocked,” ALCADEV said. Volunteers with ALCADEV last week said evacuees had to show receipts for the food they bought themselves from stores outside the center.

In his post, Estillore said "the threats and harassment brought by the military in the area continue. In fact, they are very strict with people who want to visit the bakwit."

Andap Valley Complex

According to the military operating in the area, the Andap Valley Complex, where the Lumad communities are, is "influenced" by the New People's Army and requires soldiers to secure the residents.

Caraga Watch believes, however, that the purpose of militarization there is “to remove any opposition against the entry of coal mining companies in to the ancestral lands of the Lumad.”

The valley is among the areas that President Rodrigo Duterte said in February that he wanted tp open up to investments, saying he would pick the investors so there would be no corruption in the deals.

"Make use of your ancestral domain. Do not let it remain idle," Duterte said in his SONA in 2016 and, in February, stressed that: "Now, you have been given ancestral domain. The problem is, you aren't using it."

READ: Duterte silent on peace talks, Lumads in 3rd SONA

Five coal mining companies are reportedly set to operate in the area.

In its latest report, international non-government organization The Global Witness said that 48 land and environmental activists were killed in the country in 2017—the most murders ever recorded in Asia in a single year. This is also up by 71 percent from the 28 killed in 2016.

Of these killings, 67 percent occurred in the resource-rich Mindanao region.

“President Duterte’s aggressively anti-human rights stance and a renewed military presence in resource-rich regions are fuelling the violence,” the report said.

It also noted that 56 percent of these murders were suspected to have military involvement. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

READPhilippines has highest number of killed environmental defenders in Asia

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