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‘Lumad’ in gold-rich Mindanao targeted

/ 01:10 AM September 07, 2015

DAVAO CITY—Indigenous peoples in the provinces of Davao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Bukidnon share the same experiences of being harassed, killed and displaced by paramilitary groups and government soldiers, according to Kalumaran, a confederation of different tribes in Mindanao.

Aside from deaths and arrests, several lumad schools ran by nongovernment institutions were also targeted by government and paramilitary forces, Kalumaran added.

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“It is a form of ethnocide, but it is worse because there are specific characteristics of impunity and killings targeting the lumad. And what is alarming is that it is happening all over Mindanao,” said Kalumaran secretary general Dulphing Ogan.

Since May, more than 700 lumad have been displaced from their homes in Talaingod in Davao del Norte after government forces and the anticommunist paramilitary group Alamara targeted several villages in the town, Ogan said.

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Hundreds of students were also deprived the right to attend their classes after at least 24 primary and secondary schools were shut down and the teachers received death threats. The schools were operated by Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. Academy.

Several villagers from San Fernando, Bukidnon, which shares borders with Davao del Norte, have been displaced since May this year after the Alamara paramilitary group and government forces allegedly occupied their villages.

Some 700 lumad from Bukidnon and Davao del Norte have been staying at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines’ Haran Center in Davao City because of the alleged militarization in their communities.

Last July 23, more than 500 policemen and government agents conducted a “rescue operation” at the Haran Center to force the lumad to return to their homes. The incident resulted in violence after the police forcibly opened the gates of the center. At least 17 lumad and two policemen were injured in the confrontation between the lumad evacuees and the “rescuing” policemen.

On Aug. 18, five Manobo lumad, including a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old, were killed by the military’s Special Forces in Pangantucan town in Bukidnon. The military said those killed were rebels, but the New People’s Army said the victims were civilians.

On Aug. 27, at least 11 Manobo tribal and farmer leaders were arrested by government soldiers in the town of Kitaotao in Bukidnon. The military said the arrest was made after they served 57 search warrants in a community of suspected communist rebels where they reportedly yielded an improvised M16 rifle, an M79 grenade launcher, three rifle grenades, two explosives and antigovernment documents.

Capt. Alberto Caber, public information officer of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said the operation “liberated” the village from the New People’s Army.

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But Isidro Indao, spokesperson of the Kahugpongan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Kitaotao, said the leaders and their organizations were targeted because they were vocal in the campaign against human rights abuses in the mountain communities and were calling for the armed groups, especially the military, not to occupy civilian villages.

On Aug. 28, several families also fled their homes after the Bagani paramilitary group led by a certain Hasmin killed Manobo lumad brothers Crisanto and Loloy Tagugol in San Miguel town in Surigao del Sur.

On Sept. 1, at least 2,000 residents from Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, evacuated after a paramilitary group, allegedly accompanied by soldiers, killed Emerico Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev).

Alcadev is a privately operated but government-regulated learning institution that provides basic and technical education to lumad children in communities rarely reached by government services.

The armed men, locally known as the Magahat, also killed Dionel Campos and his cousin Aurelio Sinzo. Campos was a community leader and the chair of the indigenous people group Maluhutayong Pakigbisog Alansa sa Sumusunod, which is known for its position on the protection of ancestral lands and its campaign against human rights violations targeting indigenous people.

“These are just the major cases but it can provide a bigger picture that there is an ongoing systematic, planned and deliberate attempt to destroy the lumad. The attacks focus on lumad areas with established indigenous schools and peoples organizations,” Ogan said.

There can be no other reason behind the attack but the frustration of the military and companies on the persistence of the tribes not to allow the operations of extractive economic activities in the area like mining and logging, Ogan added.

“These areas are the best spots to extract gold, nickel and copper. And these areas are also the remaining forests in Mindanao,” Ogan said.

Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel earlier blamed the paramilitary Magahat behind the killings in Lianga, but he disclosed that this group was created, trained, funded and armed by the military for its counterinsurgency campaign.

The military denounced the killings and vowed that it would fully support the ongoing investigations. Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao

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