Groups say Tumandok land defenders arrested, at least one killed, in Capiz

Groups say Tumandok land defenders arrested, at least one killed, in Capiz
This satellite photo shows Capiz province
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MANILA, Philippines — Peasant and environmental groups have condemned the arrests and subsequent killings of at least seven indigenous Tumandok land defenders as part of combined military-police operations in Western Visayas earlier Thursday . 

The Tumandoks, along with the Atis, are the indigenous peoples of Panay Island, where Capiz is.

According to an alert by farmer group Pamanggas Panay, the regional chapter of militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Roy Giganto, chairperson of indigenous peoples' organization Tumanduk was arrested along with the group's former chair Marevic Aguirre and village councilor Mario Aguirre in Tapaz, Capiz.

Aguirre is now a government employee.

In a separate statement later Thursday, KMP said that Giganto, who was "reported missing and unaccounted for after he was arrested by authorities" was confirmed dead, along with seven other Tumandok farmers in Tapaz town, all of whom they said were previously placed under military surveillance for protesting against dam projects in the region.

Pamanggas also added that Tumandok farmers Marilyn Chiva, Welsie Chiva, Luisito Bautista, Sr., and Glen Legario were rounded up in separate operations by the 12th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police Regional Office 6 in Calinog, Iloilo.

RELATED: Tumandok IPs forced to vacate settlement in Boracay island – groups

Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) in its own statement added that the killings bring the number of peasants killed during the Duterte administration to 301. 

"Tumanduk has long been active in the defense of ancestral domains in Panay. Their principled resistance to the landgrab necessitated by the construction of a megadam in Calinog, Iloilo has resulted in their constant harassment. In 2019, the 61st IBPA had gone as far as to force themselves into the home of Rodolfo Diaz, Jr, a senior citizen, to plant evidence and frame his son Remy as a member of the New People's Army," SAKA said in its statement. 

'State forces punctuate 2020 with killings' 

Environmental group Kalikasan condemned the arrests in the same statement, calling them "a clear example of the dangers of red-tagging."

“For defending their right to their ancestral domain, Tumanduk activists are criminalized and brutally subjugated by the Duterte government," said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment.

"It is not a crime for Tumanduk to consistently stand against destructive projects."

Land defenders, along with journalists and legal practitioners are among the many groups that have seen a sharp rise in attacks during the Duterte administration. According to independent watchdog Global Witness, the Philippines has already surpassed Brazil as the most dangerous country in the world for people defending their land and the environment. 

RELATED: Threats against environmental defenders seen to worsen with anti-terror bill

The government has denied allegations of harassment and abuse, calling them either part of a propaganda campaign to discredit the government or acts by communist rebels against civilians. 

 Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Southern Luzon Command chief and spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, is quoted in an April 2020 article by state-run Philippine News Agency as saying that military forces in the countryside are actually "crafting an Economic Recovery Strategy to help poor farmers, peasants, and fisherfolks recover."

Dulce on Thursday called for an end to what he called anti-communist witch hunts and the immediate release of the Tumandok activists, whom he said "only want to save their lands, livelihood, and culture from being submerged by these dam projects."

"This latest atrocity urgently necessitates the call on the Senate and the House of Representatives to fast-track the proposed law to criminalize red-tagging," he also said. — Franco Luna with reports from Gaea Katreena Cabico 

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