Even as peace talks poised to resume, attacks on legal activists heighten


(First of five parts)

amelia pond  Even as National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants Wilma and Benito Tiamzon finally walked out of detention from Camp Crame today, reports from regions indicate that state security agencies are stepping up attacks against legal activists.

The Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.

Pond is also the research and documentation officer for the Salugpungan School Network in Mindanao, which remain the only available opportunities for education of indigenous children.

The attack happened as peace panels of the government and the NDF were preparing for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

Read: Tears, hugs as NDF consultants walk free

Pond was accosted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) criminal instigation and detection group (CIDG) after a three day RMP assembly at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center on Archbishop Reyes Avenue, in Cebu City’s Lahug district.

Her arrest came as activists and peace advocates were hailing the release of the Tiamzon couple, which brought the number of freed National Democratic Front (NDF) political prisoners to 17.

 

 

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Wilma Tiamzon (left) and husband, Benito (right) talk to supporters and peace advocates following their release from detention. They are flying  with 12 other consultants to join the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel in Oslo, Norway, where peace talks are set to resume on August 22. Photo by Obet de Castro

“They will join 15 others so far released in peace talks in Oslo on August 22 and for consultations with the NDF Negotiating Panel,” lawyer Edre Olalia said. Two of the released consultants are not joining the Oslo talks as they need urgent medical care, NDF sources said.

Planted evidence?

The RMP report said Pond was in a taxi with three other people when CIDG cops blocked them. They forced her out of the vehicle.

“The female CIDG held her by the arm and asked her with different names but she denied. This was followed by more questions showed photographs, and a supposed warrant of arrest, but they did not make her read the warrant,” the report said.

“One of Amy’s companion insisted that she should read the warrant for her to know what her case is but despite Amy and her companion’s insistence they failed to let Amy read the warrant. Amy vehemently resisted this illegal arrest.”

The witnesses said one of the CIDG men went near Amy and inserted two ID’s in her bag.

“Then they asked her to alight the car. She refused to go with them but they forced her. In this instance, Sr. Francis Anover and Sr. Marisol Garduno who were also in the center immediately went to her rescue.”

Pond was brought to Camp Sotero in Cebu City. and charged with double murder and frustrated murder in Compostela Valley under the name of Adelfa Toledo.

Increasing attacks

pajallaBefore Pond’s arrest, Quezon province cops nabbed a peasant leader identified with the military party-list group, Anakpawis.

Karapatan-Quezon spokesperson Alex Pacalda told Bulatlat.com that the arrest of Antonio Pajalla was illegal as, “the rebellion charge against him was long extinguished when he was granted amnesty under former President Fidel Ramos.”

Bulatlat quoted Pacalda as saying the peasant leader held with him his copy of the certificate from the National Amnesty Commission when he was arrested at around 9 a.m. Aug. 12. He was on a jeepney en route to the Anakpawis Partylist’s office in Catanauan town.

The rebellion charge against Pajalla, which is the ground for his arrest, was first filed in 1995. But Pajalla was granted amnesty by President Ramos in 1997, said Pacalda.

Karapatan and other rights groups  have warned that the continuing presence of paramilitary troops — trained and supervised by the military — represents a major threat to the peace process.

“We must watch out for saboteurs,” said Catholic Bishop (Caloocan City)  Deogracias Yñiguez on the eve of the Tiamzons’ release. He said church workers and civil society and people’s organizations must remain vigilant on human rights violations and other abuses, which could wreak havoc on the peace process.

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Yñiguez said, worked hard with other groups “to find many ways to ensure that the crucial peace process resumes.”

Lumad victims

Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo confirmed that paramilitary troops strafed a lumad community on July 30 during holding a wedding in  San Fernando, Bukidnon, killing a pregnant woman and wounding seven other people, including five children.

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Maytas Gauyran, chieftain of the Tigwahanon tribe, grieves at the coffin of his daughter, Marikit Gayoran, who was pregnant when shot dead during a community wedding. Photo courtesy of Kilab multimedia

A DSWD report said  a paramilitary group associated with the 8th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army. Taguiwalo said all victims beneficiaries of the DSWD’s 4Ps and Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT).

Taguiwalo also ordered an investigation into the provision of projects for suspected mastermind ‘Alde Salusad’ or ‘Butsoy’ despite a warrant of arrest for a previous killing of a lumad datu, Jimmy Liguyon, in front of his small children.

 

 

 

Vulnerable communities

The Save Our Schools  (SOS) network said attacks on indigenous schools in Mindanao have increased following then assumption of Duterte. The tough talking leader has close links to restive indigenous groups fighting against the entry of big mining firms and plantations into their ancestral lands.

In the areas around Duterte’s home city of Davao, teachers were forced to close down some schools because of death threats, according to SOS executive director Rius Valle.

He said paramilitary forces trained and supervised by military officials were hunting the teachers in the Pacquibato district of Davao City.

“They documented attempts to kill them,” Valle said in an interview.”The two teachers had to close down the school and seek sanctuary in Davao City.”

After the Paquibato incident, which happened just before Duterte’s  first State of the Nation Address (Sona), paramilitary troops also killed the leader of a parents’ association in a lumad school on the outskirts of Davao City. The community in the area have a long running feud with religious leader Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a known supporter and friend of Duterte.

lumad444On August 13, six men, riding in tandem on three motorcycles, also strafed a group of lumad in Barangay Zillovia, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur. A woman, shot in the chest, had to be placed under intensive care.

The victims are indigenous claimants to land now covered by an forestry agreement granted to  Provident Tree Farms, INc.
The RMP said the incident is connected to an earlier series of attacks, including the murder of  Datu Mansulbadan, the former supreme datu of the Manobo community in the area.

Four other Manobo — including a 13-year old boy — who were the apparent target of the gunmen suffered less serious injuries. The attack also prompted an evacuation of residents.

 

Hitler… Holocaust lines? DO YOU REMEMBER THEM, MR. PRESIDENT?


Dear President Aquino,
I oppose the candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte because of his views — and actions — that are inimical to human rights. I oppose the candidacy of the dictator’s son, who still pines for the bloody paradise of his father.

“If you allow them to oppress your fellow man and you do not speak up, you will be the next one to be oppressed.”

Aquino repeated the famous quotes of Martin Niemoller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken critic of Hitler and spent the last years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

“First they came for the communists, but I did not speak out because I was not a communist… finally they came for me and there was no one left to speak up for me.”

Let me jog your memory, Mr. President. What did your government do while soldiers and para-military forces hounded Lumad to death in Mindanao?

When the Lumad sought sanctuary in Davao, your Liberal Party colleague tried to force their “rescue”.
KARLO MANLUPIG
‘Saving the Lumad’ Cops summoned to Davao City by the Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Indigenous Peoples to “rescue” lumad fleeing military abuses in their mountain communities injured 15 of the displaced folk and destroyed a number of temporary shelters. (Photo by Karlo Manlupig)
Your Armed Forces earned a sharp dressing down from a UN expert when they tried to manipulate his words and the truth (yes, pretty much Goebbels-style, right?)
You snubbed the Lumad when they came to the capital to call attention to their plight.
Yet your allies in Congress and your AFP brass — and your national security office in Malacanang — hosted pet datus as they preached their belief that anyone with “alien” ideology was fair game for murder.
Your hand-picked successor Mar Roxas ignored entreaties by a governor from your own party. Indeed, when a refugee shared his plight, Mr. Roxas urged him to deliver himself unto the AFP — the very same folks who’d sent him scrambling for safety.

 

Nobody came to the aid of 15-year old Manobo boy from Sitio Mando, Barangay Mendis, Pangantucan, Bukidnon.
He didn’t just hear of the murders of his kin, Mr. President. He actually begged soldiers to spare their lives, appealing that his father, brothers and cousins be jailed if, indeed, they had done anything wrong. His father was 70 and blind; his brothers 20 and 19 years old. One of his cousins was 13 years old; the other was 17.
He begged the soldiers, Mr. President. And they shot father, brothers and cousins, one by one.
Remember them, Sir?
lianga
Lumad and supporters hold candlelight rites for Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo and 57 other Lumad murdered under the Aquino administration. (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)
On September 1, in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao Sur, the head teacher of a lumad alternative school was found murdered.
Emerito Samarca’s students at the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) discovered his body. The folk at Diatagon had no access to education until private efforts established Alcadev for Manobo, Banwaon, Higanon, Talaandig and Mamanwa youth.
AlcadevYou spurned Alcadev’s students when they were in town late 2014 to protest the militarization of their schools.
A year later, these same children saw Dionel Campos and his cousin Belio Sinzo murdered by paramilitary troops.
The three gentlemen’s crime — providing a safe space for the education of children neglected by government.
No one came to help the hapless Lumad, Mr. President. No one from your government. It took private citizens and people’s organizations and churches to come to their aid.
And don’t you talk of coming to the aid of people suspected of being communists.
REDS
There have been more than 300 cases of extra-judicial killings under your administration. Eighty of these involved indigenous people or tribal groups. Almost always, people your government suspects of being communist.
You couldn’t even be bothered over the death of hungry farmers, Mr. President. Spare us your warnings.
KILAB MARCH 31 Screen Shot
We know about tyrants and what they can do to the country.
You speaking on our behalf isn’t just silly and thoughtless as you often are. It is criminal, because it seeks to use legitimate fears to cover-up your government’s attrocities.
Your government kills teachers and children, Mr. President. WE WILL NOT FORGET.
WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED

NERI COLMENARES IS MY ACTION MAN


My son calls him, “the real action man.” A friend, a true-blue capitalist from Binondo, beams on hearing the name Neri Colmenares.

Neri Colmenares (#11) is the first and only one of two names on my Senate list.

The man lawyers call “Comrade Amparing” has given honor to the term “activist”.

He paid his dues as a teenager – arrested, tortured, jailed.

He has never acted like he’s owed for the sacrifice.

After years as a human rights lawyer and three terms as Bayan Muna representative in Congress, Neri continues to invest his soul and root his politics in the “karaniwang tao.”

The people’s lawyer became the people’s fighter in the House of Representatives, bastion of traditional politicians. He authored 11 laws, including these:

  • Amending the Rent Control Act by prohibiting excessive rent for low income groups;
  • the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) law, increasing the salaries of PAO lawyers;
  • the law requiring disaster warnings through text; and
  • the law creating Special Election Precincts for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.

These are laws that affect the lives of millions of Filipinos in ways that truly matter.

He authored several human rights laws including the law compensating human rights victims during Martial Law, the Anti-Torture Law and the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law.

His bill for a P2,000 pension hike for Social Security System members sailed through the House of Representatives. Senators gave him the highest display of respect by adopting his bill en toto and passing it swiftly.

He aims for the elimination of VAT on electricity, water and fuel; the prohibition of privatization of public hospitals and public health services; the increase in income tax exemptions; the Freedom of Information Law.

He’s also the main author of the bill, Magna Carta of Airline Passengers Rights, to protect passengers from abusive airline companies. You and I know how important this is.

neri

It’s easy to see why Neri has worked so well in the House of Representatives.

Soft-spoken, polite to all, with a comic bent, he is ferocious when attacking abuse and persuasive in advocating his causes.

Colleagues across party lines stress his diligence, sharpness and his skill in building consensus where it can be forged.

His labors extend beyond the doors of Congress, all the way to the Supreme Court where he won a decision stopping Meralco and other electric companies from imposing excessive electricity rates in Metro Manila and other provinces.

He was also petitioner in the Supreme Court cases which declared DAP and PDAF pork barrel unconstitutional and in the P10 Billion overcharging and refund case against Globe and Smart telecoms. He has argued before the Supreme Court several times in various petitions defending human rights and the public against excessive rates for public service — including unjust MRT-LRT rate increases.

He argued before the US District Court in Hawaii for the compensation of human rights victims on the Marcos human rights case. He is the President of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) a national association of human rights lawyers and a Bureau Member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers based in New York and Belgium.

Oh, Neri is one of a handful of candidates who openly espouse divorce. He’s for the anti-discrimination bill that gives justice and dignity to LGBT’s in this country.

Lourd de Veyra says: He’s solid.

Neri’s more than solid. In a field full of dross, he’s golden.

Plus, how many senators can sing Buchiki and What a Wonderful World and give these equal meaning?

 

 

Big swing vote…and I’m one of them


In very tight electoral contests, analysts like to peer at the swing votes — the undecided, uncommitted voters.

The latest Pulse Asia survey results show six percent of 5,200 respondents having no presidential or vice presidential choices. They could make a difference given that the top bets are in neck-to-neck races.

The survey section dealing with second preferences also shows that an overwhelming number of those without original candidates also do not have alternate bets — 84% for the presidency, 78% for the vice presidency.

I’ve never been interviewed for these surveys. But I’m in that swing vote demographic. The NOTA (none-of-the-above) crowd.

But I have pledged to vote and continue to wrestle with conscience and study the candidates.

Do I vote so that particular candidates don’t win? Every voter will dislike some candidates more than others. Do I vote for the least evil? Those are questions for one’s conscience. I have no answers yet.

But there’s no point in bashing other voters. Each Filipino has the right to vote, according to that personal light. Even while disagreeing with other people’s choices, some part sees where they are coming from.

Just how real are these wannabe presidents?

#4, Mar Roxas

Roxas, former transport and interior government secretary, has spent the most in campaign ads, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) — P969,173,267 in the pre-campaign period as of Jan. 31 this year. That’s ad time, not including the government resources poured into getting media mileage for Roxas.

Yet there he languishes, despite Edwin Lacierda’s hopeful noises, and despite a switch to a combative campaign image at the start of the official campaign season.

Most people just don’t get Roxas. I’m one of them. He claims to be pure — “hindi magnanakaw” (not a thief, an obvious reference to Vice President Binay’s plunder raps).

But it’s not enough to claim you’re not corrupt. A real enemy of corruption speaks out, consistently, against anomalies and shortcuts in governance. Roxas is zero on this point.

He attacks Binay but fails to mention that Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, his ally, has been untouchable despite links to pork barrel scandals and a host of other complaints filed with the Ombudsman. He also backed the administration’s insistence on doling out pork, even with two defeats at the Supreme Court. His department was among the biggest beneficiaries of discretionary funds.

Roxas claims to be pro-poor (well, his wife claims he is, by way of tattered house shirts). He claims to be pro-environment. But he has defended his miner friends, as if oblivious to documented cases of abuses that reached the Supreme Court. Roxas, infamous for the line, “kung alam ko lang” (had I known…) probably doesn’t know that the Supreme Court ruled against his friends. That puts in question his vaunted high IQ and educational pedigree.

Roxas is also silent on  the involvement of a Liberal Party governor who rewarded Shenzhou Mining Group — whose nickel mining operations were suspended after it created a waste pond right on the shoreline of Claver town, Surigeo del Norte — by petitioning the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to allow shipment of ore worth P179 million.

mar shenzou1

He may not be a brute — his word for Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte — but he hasn’t raised a pinky finger to stop the brutalities of this administration. Again — he pretends not to know. He’s so ignorant he once told a lumad evacuee to seek help from his military tormentors. And Roxas was in the company of Surigao del Sur governor, Johnny Pimentel, who’d long sounded the alarm over military and paramilitary atrocities.

Roxas loves to parade his technocrat abilities. He headed the Transport Department and hand-picked his successor. MRT, LRT, airports, traffic — ’nuff said. A former MRT executive has named him and DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya as responsible for anomalous deals responsible for repeatedly stranding millions of commuters in the national capital.

He slams Sen. Grace Poe for theatrics. And yet Roxas is the butt of jokes for all those awkward, laughable attempts at presenting his pro-poor credentials — by posing as a pedicab driver, stevedore, traffic aide, rescuer, even a carpenter.

politiko_pic1676
Graphic from politico.com

Roxas is not just saddled with the absence of a backbone. He’s an opportunist who has ignored the most atrocious deeds just to stay in the good graces of a tantrum-prone President. Despite public weeping, he couldn’t even be bothered to confront the President on the deaths of 44 elite cops in Mamasapano.

#3 Duterte

Duterte has overused that hyperbole excuse. He’s given too many threats, spat at civil liberties too many times.

Now he claims a Binay victory will usher in a dark age for the country. He may be right there. But how can he slam Binay’s corrupt ways and proclaim affection for the Marcos dictatorship? He apparently has double standards for corruption, the same way he does for human rights.

digong111

Read: Killing for Peace in the Philippines

#2 Binay

binay1

The vice president has taken to criticising the inefficiencies of the Aquino administration. Check. We agree.

He has also attacked corruption in the Aquino administration. Check. We agree.

But he, too, faces very serious corruption charges. That huge hacienda. The overpricing of building contracts. Sweetheart deals. We’re not talking spare change. We’re talking big, big money.

Read: Senate probe on Binays: ‘Plunder through grand conspiracy’

And he has responded to these with a strategy of evasion, hoping the largesse he gives to local government officials across the country will allow him to rack up their command votes.

Many people say better an efficient master of corruption than a bumbling one. Good god. And we wonder why young people sneer when we lecture them about martial law.

As retired journalist  Alex Allan notes:

A parallel situation to voting for Binay is smoking. One has been given tons of evidence that smoking causes cancer and kills and yet one continues to smoke? That’s akin to committing suicide. In the same vein, we have already been shown tons of evidence that Binay’s billions have been gained from graft and corruption and we still would want to vote for him? That, too, is akin to committing suicide.

Read my story: Source of Binay funds a puzzle (and that’s not even covering all aspects of the raps he faces)

#1 Poe

Poe is bright. She’s sharp. On many governance issues, she is ready with figures and analysis. I like her platform of governance and don’t agree with others who urge her to junk every policy of Mr. Aquino.

The Supreme Court has handed her a victory, giving her the legitimacy needed to rev up her campaign. (I have no issues on grounds of citizenship or residency.)

11800304_1004869546210926_5108868291687819720_n

But I’ve been troubled by the stance Poe has taken on several issues — her response to the INC’s efforts to stop the investigation of its leaders, for one.

Read Grace Poe and the INC

She shows some problematic tendencies in the face of negative reports — always chalking these to malicious enemies, dodging straightforward responses, ignoring opportunities to provide clear proof in the face of silly reports and thus, giving detractors a longer shelf life.

My biggest reservations, however, have to do with a penchant for ingratiating herself with power blocs. There was the INC And then the Marcoses, obviously to gain some northern Luzon votes.

There’s a strong taint of slip-sliding morality in her fluffy stance to give Bongbong Marcos space to decide on whether the nation is owed an apology for his father’s rapacious regime.

Charles Englund on Facebook disagrees:

“You may be missing the need to ally and talk in campaign speak during this period to appeal to broadest segment possible. The PNoy role was clearly a throwaway olive branch, as is the BBM comments.”

He believes people won’t vote for Binay. But that’s not what Pulse Asia says, unfortunately. If people will go for him in the unlikely event that Poe can’t finish the campaign, they could go for him if they find her playing cutesy too many times.

We’ve lost the strong, steely woman who topped the last senatorial race. Grace Poe needs to find her moxie again, be firm, be strong, be true. Babae ka, Grace. Show us true grit.

 

 It’s about us, friends

The most common question these days is, “who are you voting for.” The question is often posed as a challenge for every critique of any candidate.

The honest answer is, I have no choice yet. But even if I did, it would make no difference. My vote doesn’t confer sainthood on anyone. Nor does your vote.

My vote won’t deprive me of critical faculties. Nor should yours.

We’re so preoccupied at latching on to politicians, seeing them as saviors. We don’t believe in ourselves as citizens.

That’s why we cannot bear to acknowledge our bets’ weaknesses, before and after victory. That is why we are where we are today, with youth so disenchanted they’re raring to throw egg on our faces.

Should we blame them? No, in many ways, they’re right. We need to regain their trust.

Having a candidate is no excuse to play blind, deaf and dumb to their failings. We mock the Yellow Army for dropping the first, crucial word in “critical collaboration”. And yet almost all of us are doing the same thing all over again.

These politicians are not going to save the nation. It’ll be up to us — all of us, it doesn’t matter who your bet is — to rein them in. Silence is the greatest friend of the abuser. Let’s not forget that.

On the eve of APEC summit, spotlight on Lumad


PH leaders ignore cost of ‘development’ on social margins

(First of 4 parts)

As the Philippines rolls out the red carpet for leaders of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation member-states, its own indigenous peoples are in the spotlight as advocacy groups worldwide ponder how to stop “development” from bulldozing society’s margins.

A decades-long battle for the rich earth and the minerals beneath lies at the root of the upsurge in conflict across a huge swathe of Mindanao’s heartland in southern Philippines.

Deployment of government military units in Mindanao has traditionally followed the path of big-ticket encroachment into indigenous peoples' lands. Graphic courtesy of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
Deployment of government military units in Mindanao has traditionally followed the path of big-ticket encroachment into indigenous peoples’ lands. Graphic courtesy of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan

At the center are the Lumad, non-Muslim indigenous peoples. The Lumad, with a population estimated at 7 million, have fought for centuries against new migrants, retreating in the face of superior arms and socially engineered influx.

On the last frontiers of the Philippines’ “island of promise,” they are making their last, fierce, desperate stand against government-approved mining operations and plantations.

In this section of Caraga's Andap Valley complex, Lumad had built a thriving, self-sufficient community despite government neglect. Now, armed men on a killing spree have driven them out of their homeland.
In this section of Caraga’s Andap Valley complex, Lumad had built a thriving, self-sufficient community despite government neglect. Now, armed men on a killing spree have driven them out of their homeland.

Above them are crags unfit for the cultivation of food. Below them are the teeming urban centers that annually reap the deadly harvest of runaway development. Around them, armed groups of all stripes, battling for their hearts and minds.

Global support

Of the more than 60 indigenous folk killed under the Aquino administration, 53 are lumad, from the last parcels of pristine highlands that are targets of applications for mines and plantations.

The Philippine government largely frames the Lumad problem as an offshoot of Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency. Peace and social welfare national executives fret over the ballooning number of Lumad evacuees but are mum on the causes of displacement.

There have been 14 victims of four massacres. Four of the slain were minors, according to the human rights group Karapatan.

Throw in Lumad advocates, rights workers and environmental activists and the number of extra-judicial killings in Mindanao jumps to 144.

In these areas, Lumad leaders have been massacred. The root cause: their struggle against development projects encroaching on ancestral lands
In these areas, Lumad leaders have been massacred. The root cause: their struggle against development projects encroaching on ancestral lands

More than 70 indigenous people’s organizations across Asia have signed a statement, calling on Philippine government– host to this year’s APEC summit – to end the killings. 

Joan Carling, secretary-general of the Thailand-based Asia Indigenous People’s Pact (AIPP), says at least 13 Lumad, indigenous peoples of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, have been killed this year — four every three months — by either state soldiers or paramilitary troops.

Forty thousand people, more than half of them minors, have been displaced by military and paramilitary operations. There have been 188 attacks on schools, hundreds of reported cases of harassment, including and arbitrary detentions, illegal arrests and torture, with children among the victims. Around 8,000 Lumad are now in evacuation camps. Read: Children are war targets in PH’s last frontiers

These grim figures barely hint at the real cost of the war for occupation of the indigenous people’s lands.

Displacement

From 46,000 to 50,000 government troops – 55 battalions, excluding engineering and intelligence units and those involved in civilian-military relations – are stationed in Mindanao.

AFP deployment in Mindanao
AFP deployment in Mindanao

The AFP, after decades of officially taking a back seat to the Philippine National Police (PNP) on matters of internal security, have taken the helm once more in the last phase of President Aquino’s term.

Their official goal: to break the backbone of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army.

Under the Whole of Nation approach, lifted right out of the US Special Forces’ manual of operations, almost the entire civilian bureaucracy has subsumed the delivery of basic services to fit the military agenda.

In the last year of Mr. Aquino’s rule, Mindanao’s landscape looks no different from the war laboratories under  the Marcos dictatorship or his scorned predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Military officials alternate between calling the victims of rights violations rebels and claiming the killings are an offshoot of a tribal war between anti-communist and pro-communist rebels. To an economist and consultant of the AFP’s pacification campaign, any lumad killed must be considered an NPA rebel.

It is a claim that flies in the face of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) acknowledgement that the August and September incidents in Pangatucan, Bukidnon and Lianga, Surigao del Sur were clearly extra-judicial killings.

The national government’s peace and social welfare executives fret at the “unsanitary” conditions of the Lumad evacuation camps and the presence of children. But they remain silent on the cause of evacuations.

Lumad have thumbed down the solution broached by the social welfare secretary– resettlement – saying this comes straight from the playbook of those out to take their lands. Read: Lumad nix resettlement

Birds of prey

Mr. Aquino pledged to overturn or “straighten” the errors of the Arroyo administration. Yet his government has adopted his predecessor’s vision of turning one of Mindanao’s most impoverished and conflict-prone region into Asia’s mining capital.

To the embattled lumad, the main difference is that even more land now is controlled by big corporations.

Mining concessions sprawl across more than 500,000 hectares of Mindanao. Eighty percent of these mines are on lumad lands. Plantations account for 700,000 hectares, 12% of the island’s agricultural land. A million hectares more are up for grabs.

These landmarks of economic development, combined with the Marcos government’s logging concessions-award binge to cronies, have gobbled up Mindanao’s forestcover, from 70% in 1900 to just six percent in 2011.

Areas that seldom experienced floods in the past now annually suffer deaths in the thousands, with huge boulders and felled logs crashing down into entire townships.

In the Caraga province of Surigao del Sur, reports of violence against the Lumad happen in the areas of the fiercest resistance to mines and plantations.

Graphic from abs-cbnnews.com
Graphic from abs-cbnnews.com

“In the last three years, every time the soldiers come to our villages, they always demand that Mapasu, our organization, gives up its resistance against mining,” according to Michelle Campos, daughter of slain Lianga Lumad leader Dionel Campos.

Michelle also lost a mentor on the same day her father died. Emerito Samarca, the head teacher of Alcadev, an award-winning Lumad alternative school, was found dead in the school’s main building on September 1. Campos killers’ had held him back as they forced students and teachers out of the compound.

Mapasu means “persevering struggle for the next generation” in English. The 22 communities under it are among the last holdouts against mining and plantation concessions in the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley complex.

MINING - EXISTING OPSThe Andap Valley, which sprawls across nine municipalities, hosts  the biggest remaining coal block reserve in the world. It is also rich in gold ore.

More than 6,200 hectares in Lianga are counted in the blocs of approved mining applications for mineral production sharing under Philex Gold Philippines Inc. and Rosario Mining Development Co., Rosario Consolidated Mining Corporation, and Sta.Irene Mining Corporation.

Philex, is known to have caused the Philippines’ historically largest mine disaster in its mining project in Padcal, Benguet.

Another mining giant, Benguet Corp also has a coal contract that includes Lianga, aside from Marihatag and San Miguel towns.

Aside from Surigao del Sur, the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Sur are also rich in coal, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. The Department of Energy has given the green light to the establishment of coal plants in Surigao del Sur.

Rich earth, poor folk

The Mapasu community around Alcadev was famed for its self-sufficiency, which came courtesy of the counsel of Samarca and fellow agriculturists.

alcadev_harvest_0004The school’s 16-hectare compound produces enough crops to feed more than a hundred boarding students and teachers the whole year round. Two other farms, including a village cooperative, produce the surplus that have allowed Lumad to start livelihood in crafts.

They farm, they learn to love the land. And they eat better than peers in unorganised communities. (Photo courtesy of Alcadev)
They farm, they learn to love the land. And they eat better than peers in unorganised communities. (Photo courtesy of Alcadev)

The Lianga Lumad have trained a big number of indigenous health workers who volunteer in remote communities that have never seen government medical units. They even sent relief volunteers to provinces hit by super typhoon Haiyan, bringing food from their farms.

Yet that model has always been under siege. Mapasu has paid a high price for its independence and resistance. On Oct. 24 last year, Campos’ predecessor, Henry Alameda, was killed, also in front of his child.

One of the paramilitary men identified in Alameda’s killing surfaced in the aftermath of Campos’ death at a press briefing inside the AFP’s headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

MARCIAL BELANDRESMalacanang’s national security cluster also hosted a gathering for bloggers to present Belandres and three other pro-government datus.

Belandres blamed communist rebels for the Lianga massacre. The ex-rebel, who admitted having killed former comrades, demanded that Mapasu turnover its “communist datus” for an “internal Lumad peace pact” so that indigenous peoples could live in peace again.

Yet Belandres does not distinguish between the NPA and civilians, insisting supporters fall under the category of combatants.

When bloggers raised the possibility of Mapasu members standing firm against the entry of mining firms, Belandres called it a communist ploy.

The other pro-military datus in the gathering echoed the message repeatedly heard by Michelle: Mining is good for development and only communists would refuse that. A senior AFP commander in Mindanao also complained to an international human rights worker about stubborn Lumad who do not see the benefits mining firms can give to their communities.

Even back in 2009, military operations served the interests of mining firms. A report by Bulatlat.com said cited Lodestar Consolidated Holdings as recipient of the rights to mine 6,000 has. in Andap Valley. Opposition by Mapasu led to massive military deployment – and major evacuations by the Lumad.

Resistance

There is little doubt that the Andap Valley hosts communist rebels.  A study by a church group in the1980s said a loose alliance between the NPA and Lumad was able to limit the entry of extractive activities and logging concerns.

Some timber concessions remain in the Andap Valley but Lumad resistance – strengthened by rebel presence – have kept their gold, copper, chromite and coal reserves intact.

Now plantations are making greater inroads into the area. Belandres said his group has asked the government to reward them with livelihood – rubber and palm oil plantations.

Palm oil plantations of Filipinas Palm Plantation Incorporated (FPPI); Agusan Plantation Inc. (API); Dole-Philippines & Sumitomo Fruits (SUMIFRU) already cover almost 15,000 hectares in Caraga.

REAP - PALMINFOTARPThe new anti-plantation alliance, REAP, says oil palm plantations have doubled their spread in Mindanao from 23,478 hectares to 42,731 hectares in the last 10 years.

Rubber plantations expanded threefold, from 81,667 hectares in 2005 to 214,314.6 hectares by 2014.

On paper, Caraga is a “model for development.” It has eight wood-based companies and15 hydropower projects. It hosts 23 of the country’s 48 large operating mines —  20 nickel mines, 2 gold mines, 1 chromite mine and 1 cement 
quarry.

Kalikasan reports that seven percent of the region’s land area is covered by mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA). The government has also granted 23 existing exploration permits. Thirty applications are pending for production sharing agreements.

The department of environment in 2011 reported that mining projects in Caraga generated more than 1B taxes and fees. Official government statistics say poverty incidence dropped to 34.1% in 2012 form 43 % in 2009, raising its rank from poorest region to sixth poorest.

Photo courtesy of Caraga Watch
From the highway joining Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte, all around are scarred, red earth, the offshoot of nickel mining. Photo courtesy of Caraga Watch

Yet, the indigenous populations earlier displaced by existing mining concerns remain on the margins. They make do with seasonal work while struggling with damage to the environment and the loss of their culture — supplanted by the politics of patronage imposed by government and big business.

Those who labor to present an alternative to the government’s approved models, in turn, find themselves facing the barrels of its guns. (Next: Bai Bibi’s long fight to protect Mindanao’s heart)

NO PARADISE LOST FOR LUMAD CHILDREN (on this 40th day of Grief and Rage)


The children will not forget. They will remember. They will march home — soon.

The 40th day of waiting for justice. The 40th day of outrage as eye witness reports belie AFP attempts to wash its hands of the atrocities committed by the militia it organised, trained and supervised.

Those who think the fever of elections will drown out the voices of lumad children, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, friends have seen nothing yet.

We, in the comfort of urban centres, we. too, must not forget. We cannot be silent as the lumad struggle against the maws of death.

Dawn over Alcadev, Han-ayan, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Paramilitary forces killed on Sept 1 the head teacher of the award-winning alternative school for indigenous children. (Photo courtesy of AlCaDev
Dawn over Alcadev, Han-ayan, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Paramilitary forces killed on Sept 1 the head teacher of the award-winning alternative school for indigenous children. (Photo courtesy of AlCaDev

In the cramped tents of their evacuation camps, the children remember: 
How their parents built a school with their own hands;
How that school gave them the strength to unite in defense of their ancestral land;
How that school provided the technology and knowledge to fill their stomachs so that young ones grew strong and tall;
How that school nurtured youth who have in turn given their lives to serving their people, as agriculture technicians, health workers and teachers
How a community thrived and attained self sufficiency despite government neglect;
How that community flourished, enough that it could send seeds and crops and food stock and aid givers to victims of Typhoon Yolanda;

Art work by Alcadev students
Art work by Alcadev students

How those who want to see the lumad grovel for charity and patronage could not abide that strength and thus targeted their education and livelihood;
How men slit the throat of a loving teacher who made them his family;
How men mowed down their elders with a brazen glee that only impunity can give;
How men torched the cooperative that allowed them to pour back their resources into the land;
How soldiers ignored the cries that rent the dawn and then later laughed and mocked the grieving;
How the President dismissed their plight and the truth that his minions were laying waste to land and lives; and 
How those who had stakes in the primacy of the military and the rich patrons they protect tried to excuse the killings by tagging dissent a crime.
The children know how it is to be hounded. The children see what happens to the land when the lumad are made too weak to fight off the birds of prey.
And the children know that what they have, these gifts that allow them to speak with courage and eloquence before people who may have thought the lumad their inferiors, these gifts are beyond the reach of the avaricious.
Because education has seeped deep, because education has taught them pride. Because education has given them hope and a vision of what can be. The lumad children will reclaim their land.
PADAYON! MAKIGBISOG, AYAW KAHADLOK!

Photo courtesy of Alcadev, words by author
Photo courtesy of Alcadev, words by author

Slide1

UNHCR: Lumad need presence of NGOs, religious groups


(First of 3 parts)

“Inaccurate depiction” of the violence and killings in Mindanao lumad communities prevents actions to find, apprehend and prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations, according to a September 15 Bulletin of the UN Refugee Center for the Philippines.

The agency, which falls under the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also warned the practice by some sectors, including state security actors, could only spark further violence in regions that have seen more than 5,000 lumad fleeing their homes.

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The report, signed by The Protection Cluster Philippines, said the UN, civil society groups and religious groups like the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) should increase their presence in the besieged lumad communities.

Calling it “protection by presence,” the agency encouraged groups that have long worked in lumad communities and know the situation on the ground.

The report said 13 lumad leaders and community members, including children, have been killed from March to September 2015 in 5 incidents of extra- judicial killings and 4 massacres.

It cited at least 6 incidents of forced evacuations from the provinces of Sarangani, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, and Surigao Del Sur that involved more than 4,000 individuals, mostly indigenous peoples.

The report said:

“They fled their homes and communities, out of fear of death and military presence in their lands. At present, over 5,000 IPs are known to remain displaced and many communities at risk of displacement.”

INTERVENTION NECESSARY

In its findings and recommendations, the agency said:

“Some members of the community, including security actors have blamed the killings on the NPAs or on internal conflict in the IP communities.  This inaccurate depiction of the violence and killings in IP communities delays and prevents actions by the responsible authorities to find, apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators, which only contributes to more potential violence.”

The report added:

“Respect for the rule of law should be upheld by ensuring that the perpetrators of these killings causing displacement will be apprehended and prosecuted according to the law of the Philippines so persons can return to their communities without fear of future attack and feel protected by military. “

“The intervention of the national authorities is necessary. The PNP (Philippine National Police) stated in a community meeting that they do not have the weapons to disarm the armed groups, only the AFP can do it. The Governor has stated that the armed groups do not operate according to law and need to be disarmed and disbanded by the AFP to avoid further attacks and displacement in these communities.”

Peter Deck, UNHCR head of office for Mindanao, interviews students and teachers of Alcadev, an alternative school in Lianga, Surigao Sur, after the evacuation of close to 3,000 lumad. The head of Alcadev was among three men killed by paramilitary forces in the early hours of Sept. 1
Peter Deck, UNHCR head of office for Mindanao, interviews students and teachers of Alcadev, an alternative school in Lianga, Surigao Sur, after the evacuation of close to 3,000 lumad. The head of Alcadev was among three men killed by paramilitary forces in the early hours of Sept. 1

The agency’s report followed a fact-finding investigation by Peter Deck, UNCHR head of office for Mindanao. Deck interviewed lumad evacuees in Tandag City, Surigao Sur after the September 1 murders of Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Datu Juvelo Sinzo in Diatagon, Lianga town.

Samarca, the head of Alcadev, an award-winning lumad school, was found dead in his Alcadev room with a gunshot wound on his chest and his neck slit.

Teachers and students said paramilitary forces called the Magahat-Bagani held Samarca while they ordered the rest of the school population to the village center. There, in full view of hundreds of residents herded out of their homes, paramilitary forces shot dead Campos, the head of local lumad organization MAPASU and Sinzo, the head datu in a neighboring community.

AFP DENIES TIES TO PARAMILITARY

Witnesses have identified at least three men in the killings. They said soldiers encamped in the village and its school for two days. Troops pulled back to nearby hills on August 31.

The residents and the governor of Surigao Sur contend soldiers did nothing while paramilitary forces rampaged through the village. They have also accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines of organizing, arming, training and mobilizing the paramilitary forces, described by Gov. Johnny Pimentel as former communist rebels and some lumad leaders linked to mining interests.

AFP officials have denied the charge. President Benigno Aquino III also insists there is no campaign of oppression against the lumad.

The military initially said a tribal war caused the killings. It disavowed any knowledge about the paramilitary forces but said some lumad have declared war on “communists.”

Then the AFP hosted in Camp Aguinaldo three datus who claimed rebels killed the men in Lianga, even while insisting that the three men’s organizations were part of the communist “shadow government” in the hinterlands.

The Surigao Sur governor said one of the men in Camp Aguinaldo had been accused of killing another lumad leader last year.

Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have spoken out against the killings and launched separate investigations.

The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights Chair has refuted military claims of a tribal war, calling the Lianga deaths “extra-judicial killings.”

After a hearing where survivors of massacres spoke, CHR Chito Gascon also said said five men slain by soldiers in Pangatucan, Bukidnon could not have been New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas as one was a blind 78-year old man, two minors, all kin to two other victims.

The survivor, a 16-year old youth, said they had pleaded to be arrested instead but were killed one by one.

READ CHR: Lianga, Pangatucan deaths are ‘extra-judicial killings’

‘MOST VULNERABLE’

The agency warned of increased human rights violations suffered by indigenous people (IP) communities in the provinces of Sarangani, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. It cited threats to life, killings, grave child rights violations, including maiming and attacks on schools and political thought.

The military has accused the Lumad alternative schools of being training grounds for future rebels. It has cited lessons on government neglect of the lumad population and criticism of the military anti-insurgency campaign as proof of the school’s communist leanings.

“The indigenous peoples are the most marginalized and vulnerable population in the Philippines and require special protection under Philippine and international human rights law. For this reason, the Government, the UN, NGOs and all human rights actors have a responsibility to act.”

The agency said the apprehension and prosecution of perpetrators of the killings is needed so “persons can return to their communities without fear of future attack and feel protected by military.”

UNHCR incident report map
UNHCR incident report map

INCIDENTS

The report said human rights violations against IPs include grave child rights violations of killing, maiming, and attacks on schools.

“Moreover, the IP communities are being targeted for organizing against the government and corporations on their ancestral lands. This is perceived as political actions supporting “communist (NPA) ideology”. This report does not include all incidents against IPs in Mindanao.”

The agency reported these incidents in Surigao Sur:

  • 09 August, 84 families (estimated 430 persons) were displaced when members of Bagani, a paramilitary group interrogated and harassed villagers including children in Sitio Nalindog, Barangay Bolhoon municipality of San Miguel.
  • 28 August, in the neighbouring village of Siagao, where around 332 families (estimated 1,660 persons) fled their homes when known members of the Bagani lobbed a grenade in one of the houses in the village and killed two peasant broth- ers.
  • 1 September, another displacement of around 573 families (estimated 3,000 persons) occurred in various sub-villages in the municipalities of Lianga, Marihatag, San Agustin, San Miguel, and Tago. Civilians were harassed including students and teachers, and three tribal leaders were killed in front of community members. A cooperative and school buildings were also burned. Residents interviewed stated they were threatened with death and burning of schools if they did not leave their village.

The UNHCR report said:

“… students interviewed, mostly between 13-16 years old said that they can easily recognize who are the regular forces of AFP and who are the paramilitary. They provided specific details of their uniforms. They described how during the time that the paramilitary group was in their community, the AFP were only 50-100 meters away. The Governor has called for the disbanding of all paramilitary groups supported by the AFP since 2009.

 (2nd Part: ‘Let us settle this our way’)