New DSWD chief says ‘lumad’ just want to go home
DAVAO CITY—Social Welfare Secretary nominee Judy Taguiwalo offered herself as a bridge between a group of “lumad” evacuees and President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, promising to relay lumad demands to the incoming ruler.
The morning after she was named as the Duterte administration’s social welfare secretary, Taguiwalo visited the lumad evacuees at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran Center here.
Taguiwalo listened to the demands of leaders of some 500 lumad who have been staying in Haran.
Taguiwalo, also a University of the Philippines professor, said she wanted to know from the lumad themselves what the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which she would head starting on July 1, had done for the evacuees.
Datu Kaylo Bantalon, of the Manobo tribe in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, said the only time DSWD people went to see the evacuees was on July 23 last year when about 500 policemen and government agents, allegedly led by North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, tried to forcefully remove the lumad from Haran.
Catamco had accused militant groups of using the lumad to kick out soldiers in tribal communities.
The lumad evacuees resisted the “rescue operation,” leading to injuries among the evacuees and policemen who led the supposed rescue of the tribal group.
‘Gov’t killing us’
“The DSWD people were here when police harassed us,” Bantalon told Taguiwalo.
Bantalon said the Manobo evacuees are demanding the pullout of government soldiers in their communities and the disbanding of lumad militias.
“The military armed lumad like us and used them to harass us,” he told Taguiwalo.
“The government is killing us,” Bantalon added.
Bai Bibyaon, the only woman tribal chieftain of the Manobo in Talaingod, said all she wanted was to go home and return to farming.
“The government soldiers should leave,” she said.
“When [President] Aquino leaves, he should bring with him the soldiers,” she added.
Bibyaon gave Taguiwalo a necklace of beads as a gift. She gave a similar necklace to Catamco before the July 23 attempt to remove the lumad from Haran.
Taguiwalo said she would relay the lumad demands to Duterte.
Protecting lumad rights
“They are not asking for material things,” said Taguiwalo. “They just want to go home,” she said.
Taguiwalo said she would also meet with DSWD workers to know what really happened.
“What we don’t want is social workers being used by those who violate the rights of the lumad,” she said.
Aside from the lumad evacuees in Haran, at least 3,000 indigenous people, who also fled their communities because of increasing military presence, are staying at the sports complex in Tandag City in Surigao del Sur for eight months now.
Most of the evacuees are from Lianga town, Surigao del Sur. They fled their homes after members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani raided a tribal community in Barangay Diatagon and killed three lumad leaders. Nico Alconaba, Inquirer Mindanao
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