‘Lumad’ protesters occupy major highway in Davao
DAVAO CITY—Protesters demanding a stop to lumad killings and the withdrawal of government soldiers in lumad communities in Mindanao blocked the flow of traffic for at least seven hours on a major portion of a highway that links this city with at least six provinces.
The flow of traffic has resumed since Friday night when the protesters agreed to allow vehicles to pass through.
Members of Pasaka, a lumad group, and small-scale miners put up a blockade on a portion of the Pan-Philippine Highway near the gates of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command in Barangay Panacan here.
The Pan-Philippine Highway is this city’s major link with the provinces of Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte.
The protesters initially occupied all four lanes of the highway, preventing vehicles from passing through.
Kerlan Fanagel, Pasaka spokesperson, said the protesters decided to put up the blockade at 9 a.m. on Friday after the military failed to withdraw soldiers from lumad communities and schools in the hinterlands of Southern Mindanao.
Fanagel said there have been several dialogues between the armed forces and other agencies of the government, on one side, and lumad representatives on the other “but they remain blind and deaf toward the demand of the people.”
He said aside from the withdrawal of government soldiers in lumad communities and schools, the protesters also want the government to disband and disarm all militias being maintained by the military and compensation for lumad communities that have been occupied by government soldiers.
The protesters are also demanding that the government facilitate the safe return of lumad evacuees to their homes.
The protesters are also demanding a stop to what they said was a vilification campaign that brands lumad communities resisting the entry of logging and mining as communist sympathizers.
He said trumped-up charges against militants should also be dropped.
Capt. Roda Leoncito, acting Eastmincom information chief, said police negotiated with the protesters to open up half of the highway to allow vehicles to pass.
She said after hours of negotiations, the protesters eventually acceded to the request to reopen at least half of the four-lane highway.
Fanagel said Mayor Rodrigo Duterte had also sent a message to the protest organizers that he would try to talk to heads of national agencies and Malacañang to air their demands, which included the removal of North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco as chair of the House committee on indigenous peoples.
In a text message, Catamco said she could not understand why her efforts to help the lumad communities are being misunderstood.
“I am a lumad, too, and my primary concern is the cause of the lumad. I don’t know why my efforts are being misundertood or maybe being deliberately distorted by some quarters, possibly for their own gains,” Catamco said.
On the demands of the protesters, Catamco and Leoncito refused to comment.
But Leoncito said as far as the military is concerned, it will continue the counterinsurgency operation until all communities are freed from communist rebels.
Leoncito also said that aside from engaging in combat, soldiers are also active in humanitarian work and and implementation of government programs in upland communities.
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