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AFP, NPA recruiting ‘lumad’–CHR

‘LUMAD’ MARCH  “Lumad,” indigenous peoples from Mindanao, march from the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, to Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila to protest the killings and other human rights violations in their communities. The Commission on Human Rights says both the military and the New People’s Army were involved in extrajudicial killings of lumad. MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

‘LUMAD’ MARCH “Lumad,” indigenous peoples from Mindanao, march from the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, to Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila to protest the killings and other human rights violations in their communities. The Commission on Human Rights says both the military and the New People’s Army were involved in extrajudicial killings of lumad. MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

BOTH the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) are actively recruiting “lumad,” or indigenous peoples, for combat, according to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

Both the AFP and the NPA have also been tagged in extrajudicial killings of members of the indigenous peoples (IP) communities in Mindanao since 2001, the human rights body said on Monday in its strongest condemnation yet of the attacks on lumad settlements.

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The CHR issued the statement as hundreds of lumad from Mindanao took their protests back to the city of Manila on Monday in hopes that government agencies close to Liwasang Bonifacio would finally see their plight.

They left the comforts of the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, where they had camped out starting in October.

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“If you want to see what our situation is like in Mindanao, come visit us here (Liwasang Bonifacio),” said Jomorito Goaynon, chair of Kalumbay, a regional lumad organization in Northern Mindanao.

He said about 700 members of lumad organizations from five different regions in Mindanao will stay in Manila until Nov. 22.

The CHR statement was a categorical acknowledgement of the military’s role in the bloodshed that has displaced hundreds of indigenous folk from their homes and their ancestral domains. In the past, the CHR generally used equivocal language to describe the military’s involvement in the violence in those parts.

But the CHR, chaired by Jose Luis Martin Gascon, took no sides in the simmering propaganda and turf war between the AFP and the NPA in Mindanao’s lumad communities, implying that both were essentially to blame.

Extrajudicial killings

The CHR cited 35 cases of extrajudicial killings from 2001 to September 2015 involving 59 members of IP communities in Mindanao.

“Of these, 10 cases were allegedly perpetrated by the AFP, while eight cases were attributed to the NPA,” the CHR said. “Thus, neither side can claim to have the moral high ground to attribute excesses on the other.”

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Days after hundreds of lumad refugees traveled to Manila and gathered on the UP campus in Quezon City to call attention to their plight, the CHR directly asked the government to uphold the rights of all indigenous folk and to stop all perpetrators of human rights abuses targeting them.

In the statement, the CHR asked the government to protect the rights of the lumad to self-determination, and to stop attacking their ranks and exploiting them for “partisan political agenda.”

The CHR said it was committed to ensuring the “fulfillment of all human rights on the basis of equality and nondiscrimination, in particular for the marginalized and vulnerable.”

“The CHR condemns in the strongest possible terms the violence and gruesome killings of members of the lumad community. The fundamental right to life is non-derogable: Any violation thereof can never be justified by the identity, affiliation or ideology of the perpetrator/s,” it said.

The extrajudicial killings in the lumad communities have had a “cross-cutting effect,” according to the human rights body.

“The killing of Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, and of Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo, allegedly at the hands of elements affiliated with the AFP, are not only gross human rights violations by themselves, but also derogate the right of the local community to receive culturally appropriate education,” the CHR said.

Likewise, it said the grisly execution of Loreto Mayor Dario Otaza and his son by the NPA violated not only their right to life but also their right to hold contrary political beliefs, particularly in relation to their advocacy of convincing NPA members to “go back to mainstream society,” for which he was punished.

Food basket, gold deposits

The CHR also said it wished to clarify a number of issues “with the end view of contributing toward their resolution and the attainment of genuine social justice for the lumad.”

It acknowledged that:

Mindanao is not only a food basket, but also holds the country’s biggest deposit of gold, nickel and copper found in select areas, such as Davao, Agusan del Sur and especially Surigao.

These mineral deposits are mostly found in the ancestral domains of the lumad, ironically among the “poorest of the poor.”

Their ancestral domains are slowly being encroached upon by mining companies, characterized by lack of genuine compliance in the exercise of free prior and informed consent, as stipulated in the Indigenous Peoples Republic Act.

Both the AFP and the Communist Party/National Democratic Front/NPA have recruited, and continue to recruit the lumad to their combat.

Gov’t duties

The CHR also asked the government as the “duty-bearer” and other stakeholders to do the following:

Uphold the right of the lumad to self-determination in all spheres—cultural, economic, social and political.

Stop all cases of human rights violations perpetrated against the lumad.

Address issues on the speedy issuance of certificates of ancestral domain titles, and genuine implementation of the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan as concrete steps in recognizing the legitimate struggles and aspirations of the lumad for development and social justice.

Refrain from exploiting the lumad for furtherance of partisan political agenda.

Review and recognize the significant role and contribution of the lumad in Philippine society as natural stewards of the Philippine environment.

Enter into genuine partnership with the lumad in supporting their indigenous practices of attaining peace and resolving conflicts among themselves.

Pursue dialogues, rights and evidence-based processes in finding durable solutions to the concerns of the lumad.

The CHR said it “shall continue to maintain its integrity and independence in the fulfillment of its mandate under the Constitution, as well as its obligations in accordance with the Paris Principles for National Human Rights Institutions.”

Apec meetings

At Liwasang Bonifacio, lumad leader Goaynon said the protest would include possible investment proposals in the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meetings this month. They will hold it daily until the leaders leave on Nov. 23.

“We all know Apec is about investments and we are afraid the government would offer our lands to these investors,” Goaynon said, even as he expressed fear that this would worsen their situation in the provinces as it could further drive them out of ancestral lands.

He said the lumad were particularly against large-scale mining, plantations and the building of water dams.

5 major tents

As rain poured, lumad protesters set up five major tents to represent the five different regions in Mindanao affected by the violence between the NPA and the military. Their food supplies come from various nongovernment organizations and church leaders.

“Our main problem here is the lack of toilets and laundry areas,” he said.

Goaynon acknowledged that some of the lumad had opted to join the NPA. He said the lumad were not tolerating the rebels but the lumad organizations had “no right” to stop them.

He reiterated that the lumad were not opposing military operations against the rebels. But they were against soldiers who were living in their communities and forcing them to join paramilitary operations.

“We are not against military operations. We are not asking them to stop. But we don’t want them in our communities because innocent lumad often get caught in the crossfire,” he said.

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