‘Lumad’: From Palace guests to targets
DAVAO CITY — Shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed power two years ago, “lumad” leaders set foot in Malacañang in disbelief after the chief executive himself invited them for a dialogue on lumad killings and militarization of lumad schools and communities.
Two years later, they described their suffering as “unthinkable,” said Ryan Amper, spokesperson for Barug Katungod, a group that monitors the human rights situation in Mindanao.
After the President threatened to bomb lumad schools and ordered their closure, the Armed Forces used lumad communities as encampments for military operations, the group said.
Since May 23 last year, when the attack by the Islamic State-inspired Maute group in Marawi City triggered the declaration of martial law in the entire Mindanao, more than half a million people have been displaced.
Barug Katungod said that after the Maute group had been vanquished in Marawi, the government trained its guns on lumad communities in other parts of Mindanao where a war has been raging between soldiers and the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
As thousands of families remain displaced by the siege in Marawi, another humanitarian crisis unfolded in Lianga, Surigao del Sur province, where over a thousand members of the Manobo tribe fled their communities in the village of Diatagon because of the heavy presence of soldiers.
Maj. Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson for the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, denied any massive military presence in the affected communities, saying only a handful of troops were stationed there.
He said, however, that the military was checking the allegations made by rights groups.
Rights group Karapatan documented a total of 326 lumad families from 15 communities who left their homes and took refuge in the village of Diatagon, the latest wave of evacuations triggered by their fear of getting caught in the crossfire or being labeled as NPA sympathizers.
This was the latest in a series of evacuations by the lumad and farmers from remote areas in Davao and Caraga regions, where the declaration of martial law brought about increased military presence.
Karapatan said the latest case in Lianga also resulted in the closure of eight alternative schools run by nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and affected 48 teachers and 568 students.
As of June, there were at least 106 alternative schools in lumad communities that were either forcibly closed down or did not conduct classes in Mindanao’s four regions as a result of attacks, threats and harassment by government forces.
The rights group said these attacks on lumad schools displaced a total of 2,019 lumad students.
Barug Katungod claimed it had documented a total of 532 cases of supposed attacks on lumad schools in the region during the Duterte administration.
Amper, Barug Katungod Mindanao spokesperson, said 385 of the attacks on lumad schools, or 72 percent, happened since martial rule was declared following the May 23 Marawi war.
“One to two lumad schools are attacked every day for almost two years,” Amper said.
He said the attacks ranged from military encampment in schools, torture, threats and harassment, denial of humanitarian aid, arrests and prosecution of school officials and teachers, red-tagging, fake surrenders and outright shutting down of schools.
Military and local officials denied the rights group’s allegation even as they accused these groups of instigating the evacuation of lumad families even if there was no clear threat of military operations in communities.
“As Duterte takes his third Sona (State of the Nation Address), more than 5,000 all over Mindanao are in evacuation camps due to the AFP’s escalation of ‘Oplan Kapayapaan,’” Amper said.
“He is expected to brag about the sweeping fake and staged ‘surrenders’ of peasant and indigenous peoples as vaunted NPA combatants,” he said.
“Talaingod Datu Guibang Apoga was the AFP’s war trophy,” he said, referring to Apoga, a Manobo leader in Talaingod who became a fugitive because of the “pangayao,” or tribal war, he waged against the big company Alcantara and Sons, which he accused of encroaching into the ancestral lands of Talaingod Manobo.
Barug Katungod also claimed that at least 618 civilians, mostly political activists, across Mindanao had been charged with fabricated criminal offenses.
Human rights defenders in urban areas have also been the subject of the government political crackdown on dissent with the arrest and detention of the 13 activists in General Santos City, the continued detention of Delia Catubay and Emilio Gabales, the trumped up charges against woman activist Nerita de Castro and the increased harassment of development workers, the latest of which is Elviza Amante of the humanitarian NGO Direct.
“During the campaign period, Duterte was photographed with a banner that says ‘Stop Lumad Killings’ and which was directed at the hated Benigno Aquino III’s inutile regime,” Amper said. “Now the message is lost on Duterte and he himself has become its bloody sponsor.”
But military officials said martial law did not result in the closure of schools and supposed victims of abuses by soldiers could file formal complaints “and substantiate their claims.”
Balagtey said soldiers in Eastern Mindanao had lived up to their mandate of protecting the indigenous peoples (IP) in the region and respected their basic rights.
“Our units are working for the protection of the social and cultural rights of different IP communities in Eastern Mindanao,” Balagtey told the Inquirer. —FRINSTON LIM
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