Indigenous peoples’ meet with Gina Lopez turns into 3-way talk with AFP chief
Indigenous peoples (IP) calling for the demilitarization of their communities had a chance to air their gripes directly to the military chief yesterday during a dialogue with Environment Secretary Gina Lopez at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
The indigenous peoples from across the Philippines are holding a weeks-long campout on the campus of the state university to bring to national attention their plights in their communities.
Lopez listened to various concerns—from calls to close mining sites to demands for justice for the killing of indigenous peoples in the past year.
When she heard that one of the calls of the indigenous groups was to demilitarize their communities, she phoned Gen. Ricardo Visaya on the spot and put the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff on speaker phone to allow him to explain the military’s side.
Visaya explained to the indigenous peoples: “The soldiers assigned to your place are not there to disturb you but to respond to the presence of the NPA (New People’s Army) who are exploiting you.”
“It’s not militarization. When you speak of militarization, the military interferes with the barangay—how your place is to be run. They just guide you. They will just teach you so there will be quiet and happiness,” Visaya said, to increasing murmurs from the gathered tribal folk.
‘The NPA recruit lumad’
From Agusan del Sur province, where he was at the time, Visaya said, “Each encounter with the NPA, those who are killed are lumad. The NPA recruit lumad. We don’t want you to join them.”
Lopez, upon hearing the reactions of the indigenous people’s leaders, told Visaya that “they’re concerned the military is killing civilians.”
Visaya responded: “There are lumad who die because they joined the NPA.” This was met with jeers from the crowd, which gave way to cries of “berdugo!” and chants of “militar sa kanayunan, pagbayarin!”
Earlier, Lopez assured the indigenous peoples about Visaya: “He’s for you… He doesn’t want the militarization of ancestral domains. If something happens after he says it’s enough, you just contact him, or contact us. Let’s fix it.…So we will work together.”
Cancel permit, stop violence
Minda Dalinan, representing the B’laan tribe from South Cotabato, noted the perceived link between mining in their area and the military presence. “Cancel [the permit of] Sagittarius Mining. If it’s cancelled, the violence from the military and police will stop.”
She also spoke out against the heavy-handed response to the indigenous peoples’ rallies in Metro Manila over the past week. “Despite the violence we suffer in the countryside, they still inflict violence on us in Metro Manila. What does the AFP and especially the police want? Why don’t they allow us to say what we feel?”
A rally by the IPs at AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, was met with a water cannon. At the US Embassy in Manila, tear gas cannisters were lobbed and a policeman ran over protesters with a van.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.