‘Lumad’ seek help amid new abuses
TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte—Ata-Manobo villagers are crying anew for help to stop what they call another wave of atrocities being committed by suspected anticommunist militiamen in their communities here.
The “lumad” (indigenous) leaders aired their appeal shortly after returning to their homes from a Protestant Church-operated sanctuary in Davao City in May, where they took shelter from alleged abuses committed by the Alamara, a tribal militia unit purportedly propped up by the military for its counterinsurgency activities.
They renewed calls for the pullout of soldiers from their villages and the dismantling of the Alamara.
Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Eastern Mindanao Command chief, said the military had never tolerated abuses against lumad communities. He denied that the military was supporting the Alamara, though he acknowledged that it was recognizing legitimate tribal armed groups such as the “baganis” (tribal warriors).
“The bagani is part of the political structure of the tribes. We don’t know about that Alamara. We are consistent with our view that this Alamara is nonexistent,” Guerrero said.
Contrary to claims by human rights groups that the military has been using the Alamara as a proxy against the New People’s Army (NPA), Guerrero said he “has yet to find any evidence that the Alamara has helped in our counterinsurgency efforts.”
Datu Cris Olaño told North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, chair of the House committee on indigenous peoples, during her visit on Friday that “barely three days after we returned to our homes, killings happened again and the Alamara continues to threaten us.”
Since November last year, hundreds of Ata-Manobo people have gone back to their communities here, months after they descended in Davao City to seek refuge at Haran, which is owned by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
They spoke of abuses and human rights violations allegedly committed by military units and the Alamara in the hinterlands of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon provinces.
A 17-year old Manobo girl was also reportedly raped by soldiers. The victim has filed charges against her supposed attackers.
In November, more than 200 of the 700 Haran evacuees agreed to return home after government officials and law-enforcement authorities gave assurance that they would be protected this time.
But Olaño said recent incidents, such as the killing of a datu and a 15-year old boy, proved that the words of assurance were empty. Over 170 of the villagers have been forced to flee anew, he said.
“We really wanted to solve their concerns as these have been recurring,” Catamco said. “We brought the national agencies like the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), DOH (Department of Health) and Department of Education to help provide their immediate needs.”
She said she was coordinating with a technical working group that President Aquino created to look into the plight of the lumad communities and find solutions to their problems.
Datu Nardo Bontuas, another tribal leader, said he could not blame anybody else for his people’s predicament but the soldiers and the Alamara.
“We used to eat three meals a day before the military and Alamara came to our village. Now that they pass by frequently, we could eat only once a day,” Bontuas said through an interpreter.
Catamco said she could not prevent the military from entering the villages as it was mandated “to protect the lumad against armed groups out to hamper the delivery of government services.”
But Bontuas said no other armed groups were sighted in the villages, including the communist NPA, which they have been accused of supporting.
Romy Maas, another lumad leader, said the situation in the indigenous communities would end once the military and the Alamara stop labeling residents as communist supporters.
“We’re not NPAs. We’re just farmers and civilians. The Alamara should not target us,” he said.
All the communities want a peaceful existence and that they should be spared from the government’s anticommunist campaign, Maas said.
Guerrero said the soldiers would even hunt down Alamara members if their group really existed. “We will run after Alamara and other lawless elements in upland communities, especially now that elections are approaching,” he said.
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