Lumad Children : War targets  in PH’s last frontiers


Part I: Killing for Peace

The lad thought he had found peace. Bandam Dumanglay was making up for sleepless nights.

Nightmares had stalked his rest since August 9 last year, a  day that started with daydreams of wild catch and fishing with uncles and cousins. Then armed men accosted him in the woods and conscripted him to relay their grim message to residents of Mintake-I, Brgy Lydia, La Paz, Agusan del Sur.

The men were bagani, called “Lubog” in their Manobo community. Bandam knew them. Their leader, Ugjab Laygayan, said villagers had until 2 p.m. to vacate their homes – or face a massacre. Choppers would come with machine-gunners to finish off anyone who managed to scamper away from their guns, he warned.

Everyone must leave, Laygayan commanded; women and children included, and even the teachers of the RMP (Rural Missionaries of the Philippines) Literacy-Numeracy School.

Bandam’s reverie turned into a sprint to warn kin and neighbors. Within a few hours, they were diving and scrambling through the bush to evade warning fire. Bandam’s holiday became an overnight trek to the safer grounds of Libon village.

At the refugee center and for months after returning to Mintake, where the sight of torched homes greeted the Lumad, Bandam displayed signs of trauma – episodes of lethargy and despondent silence, alternating with a hair-trigger temper.

Agusan, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Surigao del Sur -- "bakwit" (evacuation) has become a way of life for indigenous children in the last communities still holding out against the entry of mining firms and plantations on ancestral lands. (all photos courtesy of Kilab Multimedia)
Agusan, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Surigao del Sur — “bakwit” (evacuation) has become a way of life for indigenous children in the last communities still holding out against the entry of mining firms and plantations on ancestral lands. (all photos courtesy of Kilab Multimedia)

The lad was relieved when his elders decided to relocate to Han-ayan, Brgy Diatogon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. They had relatives and kin there.

At the refugee center and for months after returning to Mintake, where the sight of torched homes greeted the Lumad, Bandam displayed signs of trauma – episodes of lethargy and despondent silence, alternating with a hair-trigger temper.

The lad was relieved when his elders decided to relocate to Han-ayan, Brgy Diatogon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. They had relatives and kin there.

alcadev lust

Reclaiming sleep

In the sprawling farms of Alcadev, Bandam healed and grew strong from daily faming activities and running across fields playing a rough version of soccer.

Talks with the school’s executive director, Emerito Samarca, calmed his troubled mind. His parents allowed Bandam, who loved cultural activities, to join other children boarders from more distant areas. After months of fatigue, he reclaimed sleep.

“He sleeps so deeply; it takes plenty of gentle shaking to wake up Bandam,” says Save Our Schools (SOS) Caraga coordinator, Lilian Laurezo.

Some nights, the boy needed “quiet time,” and would ask permission to sleep on a loft in a shed where they sheltered some animals.

That was were Bandam was in the early hours of September 1 this year when men from the “Magahat”, roused Alcadev teachers and students and forcibly marched them to the center of Han-ayan village. The group is the the military-backed paramilitary force in Surigao del Sur’s Andap Valley.

Bandam slept through the commotion. Then a gunshot startled him from sleep. He heard voices of men. He heard trampling feet. His heart thumped with fear. He wanted to check on his peers but heard the mean heading towards his direction.

Bandam knew discovery could cost him his life. That had happened in their old village whenever armed strangers came, sometimes in the company of government soldiers. He stayed put, huddled in a corner under the shed’s eaves. He wondered at the silence. He pondered how time to wait before leaving his shelter.

Then gunshots, many gunshots filled the night. The firing came from the direction of Han-ayan, where his family lived, where some of his classmates lived. Bandam’s dread mounted because no voices could be heard in the school grounds. From experience, he knew that kind of silence meant grave danger – or great tragedy.

Nightmare

He cannot remember how long he waited, his young mind conjuring all kinds of dire scenarios.

Bandam rushed out of the shed the moment he heard the familiar voices of friends and mentors. He saw white faces, tearful eyes.

“Si Tay Emok! Si Tay Emok!”

Bandom joined the rush to Alcadev’s main landmark, an airy, wooden building that housed the offices and the room of Samarca.

EmokThe children and young teachers found their Tay Emok sprawled on the floor, a pool of blood around him. They found the wound from the gunshot that disturbed Bandam’s sleep. They also found his throat slit from one side to another.

Now Bandam stays awake until late night again. More than a month since the murder of Samarca, and the public executions of Lumad leader Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo, Bandam and a hundred other students from Alcadev, and the 50 younger ones at the TRIFPS elementary school, still ask in anguish if they could have done something to save the men’s lives.

“It is survivors’ guilt,” says Gideon Galicia, a young volunteer teacher. He knows what he speaks of. Gideon wonders, sometimes tearfully, if he should have grappled with the men who held Samarca back as they were ordered to leave Alcadev’s premises. He had rushed from the male dormitory to the main building to protect the older man.

“To fight back at that point would have meant bloodshed. I could not risk the lives of the students,” Galicia says. He knew the men had violence in mind; one of them had already hit him with a rifle butt.

“Gideon did the right thing,” says another young teacher, Aivy Hora. “But he still feels guilt. The mind tells you the truth – there was nothing you could have done.”

“But your soul” – she holds a palm over her heart – “it is screaming.”

Aivy, very petite and slim, is often mistaken as a student. She and Galicia and Samarca are not Lumad. They chose to live and work with the community so that more Lumad could graduate and go back to teach in their communities.

That was the dream of Michelle Campos, the oldest daughter of Dionel, who was at her college class when she heard of the murders.

Michelle was Alcadev’s valedictorian, the pride of a father who never got the opportunity to study. Following his killing and the collective flight of the Lumad to neighboring Tandag City, Michelle has had to drop out of school.

She, too, has moments where she asks, “could I have saved Papa if I was there?”

Michelle, 17, quickly shoves the question away. She prefers to focus her attention on her mother and younger siblings. The girl who looked forward to the weekend singing, dancing and farming sessions with her father has taken on the burden of leadership, as one of the main spokespersons for Alcadev’s beleaguered youth.

How can we heal?

Social workers from government, religious groups and other private groups have been ministering to Lianga’s displaced children — and thousands others crammed into sanctuaries in Davao City, Bukidnon and North Cotabato.

Art work helps children of Lianga deal with their trauma. (Photo from SOSCaraga)
Art work helps children of Lianga deal with their trauma. (Photo by ManilaToday)

Laurezo, who documented the recent Mindanao-wide Lumad Children’s Congress in Cortez, Surigao del Sur, says some of the art play bring her to tears. The therapy brings out a melange of hopes and dreams mixed with grim realities. Some days, she says, hope gets the upper hand. Some days, it is darkness that reigns in the children’s imaginations.

Traditional wisdom says therapy aims for the day when a traumatised person can move on and get on with life. It is hard to move on when the attacks are sustained, coming with numbing regularity.

Michelle Campos, daughter of slain lumad leader, Dionel Campos. Photo by inday espina-varona
Michelle Campos, daughter of slain lumad leader, Dionel Campos. Photo by inday espina-varonaMichelle looks away at the question.

Michelle says:

“Anong ‘move on’? Matagal nang dumudugo ang lupa. Last year, pinatay nila si Henry Alameda. Tapos, si papa. At walang nakikinig sa panawagan naming buwagin ang paramilitary.” (What do you mean, move on? Our land has been weeping blood. They killed Henry Alameda last year. And now, papa. And nobody listens to our demand to disband the paramilitary.)

The other children saw the Magahat men force Campos to his knees and shoot him in the head. They saw the men beat Sinzo, shoot at him and fire around him as warning to the rest of the Lumad. They saw younger kids scamper away, screaming; their mothers, also screaming, chasing after them. They saw Sinzo fight for his life. They saw the desperate application of emergency aid. Their minds recall those few desperate minutes in slow motion, in full color.

The children say their minds went blank and then flared with red the moment they knew Sinzo was gone. They will never forget the sight of Michelle’s younger sister, Sheina, a grade 6 student at TRIFPS, kneeling beside her slain father, waving a strip of cloth to keep insects away from his face.

Sheina Campos, 13, keeping insects off the body of her slain father, Dionel, a lumad leader of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photograb from Kilab multimedia production, "Tum-od"
Sheina Campos, 13, keeping insects off the body of her slain father, Dionel, a lumad leader of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photograb from Kilab multimedia production, “Tum-od”

It is hard to heal, Laureza says, when no rational reasons seem to exist for the brutal attacks against their parents and mentors. While the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has sent food and other basic needs for the evacuees, it has been silent on the grave rights violations visited on Lumad children.

Instead, Secretary Corazon Soliman has offered “resettlement” as an option for the Lumad, a suggestion met with anger by youth and adults.

READ Displaced Lumad nix resettlement 

“She offers a ‘solution’ but she doesn’t even acknowledge the problem, which is human rights violations by paramilitary and military who are acting as protectors of mining companies,” Michelle pointed out.

Read: Slain Lumad leader’s child to PNOY: Your peace is of the Graveyard

Fighting Back

Michelle, Bandam and dozens of youth are part of the 700-strong Manilakbayan, which has just crossed the waters separating the Visayas from Luzon.

( VIDEO courtesy Altermidya: Michelle Campos on a #Manilakbayan2015 bus, says despite denials of not knowing her father’s killers, the military continues to operate with the Magahat paramilitary forces.)

The caravan arrives in Manila Monday to highlight the killings of Lumad defending ancestral lands from the encroachment of mining and plantation firms.

Fifty-six of the 71 indigenous peoples killed under President Benigno Aquino III’s administration are lumad. The human rights watchdog Karapatan and Save Our Schools (SOS) Network say 13 children have been killed by state forces under the incumbent Commander-in-Chief, four of them Muslims and ten Lumad.

Slide1

Operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and more than 20 paramilitary groups, some funded by mining firms, have displaced more than 40,000 Lumad – half of them children.

Unlike last year’s Manilakbayan, when few of the public paid attention to protesting Lumad, thousands are expected to welcome them next week.

Aside from militant support groups, students of various schools, including the big Catholic universities and colleges are readying the red carpet.  Showbiz celebrities, doctors, professionals, beauty queens and entrepreneurs have banded together to help feed the protesters and raised funds for Lumad schools. Musical artists are also preparing fund-raising and solidarity concerts.

At least two city councils – in Marikina and Caloocan – have come out with resolutions calling for a halt to the killings of Lumad.

Even youth normally pre-occupied with pop phenomenon have joined the campaign, rolling out a major drive for art supplies and books for the 87 lumad schools that have suffered attacks.

Slide1

From #StopLumadKillings Twitter thread
From #StopLumadKillings Twitter thread

Why schools and children?

Nine of ten Lumad children have no access to schooling. And yet the government has ordered the closure of three lumad school networks, affecting more than a thousand students.

Even as the Manilakbayan landed in Luzon, a barangay captain in White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, padlocked the Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School, which is overseen by the  Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc (MISFI).

Read: Despite LGU, DepEd warning, village chief closes down lumad school

In defiance of warnings from the municipal government and the education department, barangay captain Felipe Cabugnason led a group of men in destroying the school fence and then ordering the school vacated.

“Get out. We don’t want you to be victims,” teachers quoted him as saying. Twenty student boarders, three teachers and the school administrator were forced to evacuate with livestock to Arakan, North Cotabato. They have taken shelter at the Parish of Our Mother of Perpetial help.

Arakan’s assistant parish priest Fr. Peter Geremia is a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. He has survived several assassination attempts. He called the attack in White Culaman as an insult to the memory of Tentorio and everyone who has helped Mindanao’s indigenous peoples.

Paramilitary forces were strengthened early in the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But the attacks on Lumad schools is a phenomenon that cropped up only under the government of Mr. Aquino.

The Armed Forces claims the farms of the alternative schools are food and logistics hubs for the New People's Army,
The Armed Forces claims the farms of the alternative schools are food and logistics hubs for the New People’s Army,

The AFP claims the schools are havens for guerrilla cadres. It has paraded several datus, including some already identified as killers of lumad civilians, and some former students of alternative schools who claim Alcadev and the Salugpongan network in Davao del Norte train children to be combatants.

The lush school farms, the military claims, also function as logistics hub for the New People’s Army.

But most of the young witnesses presented have stepfathers who are soldiers. The military’s claim that two minors killed last August in Bukidnon were rebels has been dismissed by no less than the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights.

Chairman Chito Gaston called the deaths extra-judicial killings, pointing out that aside from the two minors, two young male adults, the soldiers also killed a blind, 70-year old man. The lone survivor, also a minor, said the five were all members of his family. He identified the killers as soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Battalion and said they killed the men one by one, execution style.

The survivor also said the AFP later sent emissaries to his mother to negotiate “compensation” in return for their silence.

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

Witnesses at Dao, White Culaman say the village chief was in a company of men in civilian clothes who had the bearing and the haircut of soldiers.

The attacks on Lumad schools are a bitter pill for indigenous peoples who are just seeing the first generation graduating from high school.

Alcadev students and teachers at the Tandag City evacuation camp. Photo by Inday Espina-Varona
Alcadev students and teachers at the Tandag City evacuation camp. Photo by Inday Espina-Varona

Michelle, reacting to Iloilo Liberal Party Rep. Jerry Trenas call for a Department of Education review of Alcadev’s curriculum, said:

It is hard to heal, Laureza says, when no rational reasons seem to exist for the brutal attacks against their parents and mentors. While the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has sent food and other basic needs for the evacuees, it has been silent on the grave rights violations visited on Lumad children.

Instead, Secretary Corazon Soliman has offered “resettlement” as an option for the Lumad, a suggestion met with anger by youth and adults.

READ Displaced Lumad nix resettlement 

“She offers a ‘solution’ but she doesn’t even acknowledge the problem, which is human rights violations by paramilitary and military who are acting as protectors of mining companies,” Michelle points out.

Read: Slain Lumad leader’s child to PNOY: Your peace is of the Graveyard

Military officers have said they support a call by Liberal Party Rep. Jerry Trenas for a review of the curriculum of schools like Alcadev. Trenas claimed videos of Alcadev students show they are being taught to hate the government.

Michelle laughs and calls Trenas statements absurd. “We are not taught to hate the government. Life teaches us to hate some of the things the government does.”

She hurls a challenge at Trenas: “What does he want? That we fall on our knees and thank the killers of our people?”

Schools like Alcadev have a non-traditional program, often a euphemism for vocational education for children who cannot afford higher education. Despite a curriculum geared to agriculture, Alcadev’s students consistently pass the high school equivalency exams. Its role in improving agriculture practices and showing consistently high academic standards have earned regional awards.

There is no hiding, however, the militant identities of its students. The young scholars are proud to be so.

After all, Michelle points out, while other areas in CARAGA show the dire results of mining and other environmentally destructive activities, the 59,000-hectare Andap Valley remains relative pristine, “because we know how to fight for our land.” (To be continued)

Part II — Rape of the earth, proxy wars fuel unrest in Lumad lands

SUFFER THE CHILDREN: Sons who have not learned


THERE WAS A CHILD … who cowered as soldiers came for her father. THERE WAS A FATHER, taken away and returned home broken, battered.

There was this not-so-distant time we lived in, grew up in. That is why we say ‪#‎NeverForget and ‪#‎NeverAgain.

A time that is a blot on our history, a national shame, a stain on the nation’s soul. A blot that spread because many of us shrugged when we saw strangers dragged from their homes, dumped on the streets, in ditches, on a sugarcane field. A blot that spread and spread and spread as we looked away. A blot that one day breached our illusions of safety.

There was that time.

And there is today.

Slide1A CHILD WHO COULD NOT SAVE HIS FATHER and brothers and cousins — also children — when the soldiers came.

A daughter who could not save her father, a sister who wishes she could have borne a sibling’s burden of grief and trauma.

Michelle Campos, daughter of slain lumad leader, Dionel Campos. Photo by inday espina-varona
Michelle Campos, daughter of slain lumad leader, Dionel Campos. Photo by inday espina-varona

Children, thousands of them in 95 schools, forced to flee because soldiers demand the only education allowed is that which parrots their message.

Fathers, again many fathers, taken away, returned home battered, broken and sometimes dead.

A father who sang and farmed and danced with his children.

A father whose biological offspring shared him with other children.

A father who stepped in when disputes flared in the community. apad-011415A father whose child weeps even as he bids a hunted man to take to the open fields and roam free, strong and brave  — on land their ancestors called home.

There was that time.

And there is today.

And there are two sons who mouth platitudes about their fathers and betray what they have not learned.

And there are those of us who still remain silent and provide excuses for those who killed — and kill. There are those who try to hide the red blot that spread — and spreads… and spreads… and spreads.

Sheina Campos, 13, keeping insects off the body of her slain father, Dionel, a lumad leader of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photograb from Kilab multimedia production,
Sheina Campos, 13, keeping insects off the body of her slain father, Dionel, a lumad leader of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photograb from Kilab multimedia production, “Tum-od”

pcpr panay

Lumad children will not forget


They say: “You teach children to be rebels”.

No, sirs, YOU teach children to be rebels.

You teach them when you kill their parents and teachers, and torch the cooperatives that provide their food.

You teach them when you prod them with guns and force them to watch murder.

You teach them when you lay waste to their lands, fell their trees and dig their soil to death.

Education is a major weapon against poverty. But, yes, it also widens the knowledge and fortifies the spirit to resist what harms the land and people and culture.

You can torch their schools, kill their teachers, maim their parents. But you will not kill their minds or their spirits. 
And the children will not forget.

Graphic design by Joel Salud
Graphic design by Joel Salud
Graphic design by Joel Salud
Graphic design by Joel Salud

Why do they hunt Lumad teachers, Lumad leaders?

Why do they hound the Lumad children?

In the Alcadev and the TRIPPS schools of Lianga, Surigao Sur, they eat better than most lumad children in areas where communities are not organized.

They wake early to farm. They eat the food they plant; learn to share life chores. They also learn to value the land that gives life to their people.

They are taught pride in their culture, in their history. They are taught independence and taught that they are equal to everyone else.

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

They are taught about the rights of citizens.

This is what their enemies fear.

Because the downtrodden and the weak are easily shoved aside in the stampede for Mindanao’s lush resources.

Because the powers-that-be cannot stand the sight of lumad who do not grovel.

They are hunted for a simple reason.

They are hunted because they act like free humans and not the slaves the powers want them to be.

Lumad want Catamco out of House IP body


The screeching, screaming, crying Diwata from North Cotabato is discovering that the law on diminishing returns covers oppression.

Church, rights, and indigenous peoples groups at the gates of the House of Representatives to demand the ouster of Rep. Nancy Catamco from the IP Commiee. (Photo courtesy of Mazzy Starr)
Church, rights, and indigenous peoples groups at the gates of the House of Representatives to demand the ouster of Rep. Nancy Catamco from the IP Commiee. (Photo courtesy of Mazzy Starr)

petition on Change.org is calling on the House of Representatives (HOR) to strip Rep. Nancy Catamco of her chairmanship of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples (IPs), citing her starring role in a violent raid against lumad folk huddled in a Davao City sanctuary. The petition now has over 500 signatures and is expected to have thousands signing up by the weekend.

Rights groups and support organizations of IPs staged a picket today at the gates of the HOR, calling for her ouster from the committee. Lawmakers of the Makabayan bloc are set to file a complaint on grounds of ethics. Church leaders and tribal chieftains have also filed several charges against Catamco and her police companions for the July 23 botched “rescue” of more than 700 IP refugees at their Haran mission sanctuary in Davao City.

‘Emissary of Death’

The Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, together with the Sulong Katribu Partylist, Stop the Killings of Indigenous Peoples Network and Save Our Schools Network, have filed a letter for Catamco’s dismissal at the HOR. Protesters threw packs of mud at the image of Catamco with a backdrop of caricatures of the military and Oplan Bayanihan.

“Catamco has proven that she does not genuinely represent us. On the contrary, she is now an emissary of death for the Manobo evacuees. She used the local police and ALAMARA, a vicious paramilitary group, to instigate an unwanted rescue. She is also forcing them to return to their militarized homes, which they have escaped from due to intensified harassment by the military,” said Piya Malayao, Secretary General of KATRIBU.

The “rescue” traumatised children in the middle of their classes and injured more than 15 lumad folk.

'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)
‘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)

Catamco, who for some reason calls herself a goddess – “Diwata” — left empty handed. Worse, the lumad chieftain she tried to use as justification for the violent rescue turned the tables on her in a scathing public scolding that has more than 17,000 hits on YouTube.

Bai Bigcay
Bai Bigcay says Catamco working for the interests of big firms out to exploit the mountain range the Manobo call home. (photo by Inday Espina-Varona)

I was in Davao over the weekend and interviewed Bai Bibiyaon Bigkay. The frail but feisty woman chieftain, who once led a successful pangayaw that drove out the Alcantara and Sons logging concession from their lands, accused the lawmaker of working for the interests of companies interested in exploiting the mountain range called the heart of Mindanao. She also vowed to resist all attempts to force lumad folk to join the Alamara.

Following the incident, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte heaped contempt on the lawmaker. Catamco, he said, does not know the difference between legislative and executive functions.

Media across Mindanao have slammed the lawmaker for being a traitor to the IPs she purports to love. More than 100 participants in an international mining conference also issued a statement supporting the lumad and condemning Catamco. 

“’Absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ so the saying goes. The action of a supposed champion for the Indigenous Peoples who later exposed her ulterior motives by her own doing was a graphic example of how power corrupts absolutely. This bogus leader deserved what she got as her all too-consuming greed for power exposed herself.”

Nobody is buying attempts by Catamco to wash her hands of the violence. Nobody is buying her plaint of being misunderstood.

It was the lawmaker, after all, who insulted the lumad twice in as many dialogues.

She insisted the IPs return home, brushing off claims of rights violations by the military. She professed ignorance of the actions of the Alamara paramilitary group — and then sat beside its leader as he pronounced war against the refugees. And she publicly vowed to wrest the IP from their sanctuary by any means.

“She has allowed herself to be the carrier of the virus for the extinction of the Lumad culture and tradition,” writes Davao-based columnist Don J. Pagusara.

“There is nothing Lumad in her looks, in her name, in her outlook, in her motives and interests. She is worse than what Franz Fanon said of the Blacks who have shunned their indigenous world outlook—‘Blacks on the outside, White on the inside’.

Catamco may have deluded herself into believing she has become untouchable. After all, despite previous links to pork scandals — including those involving pork queen Janet Napoles — she was embraced by the ruling Liberal Party. She has flaunted her closeness to resigned Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the LP’s standard bearer for 2016, as detailed by news reports. And she obviously can command cops — who fall under the DILG’s jurisdiction — and the military even outside her district.

But as the musical, “Les Miserables” tells us, even the powerful and the ruthless can buckle when they see “what little people can do”.

Remember the word, “Salvage”? Lumad ‘goddess’ gives “rescue” a different spin


A profile image on Rep. Nancy Catamco's page
A profile image on Rep. Nancy Catamco’s page
North Cotabato 2nd district Rep. Nancy Catamco calls herself a “Diwata” — a goddess — of Mindanao’s lumad peoples. On Facebook, her press releases rhapsodise about how people love her, weep to see her.

To the threatened indigenous people of Davao del Norte and surrounding provinces, however, Catamco is a traitor. The chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Indigenous Peoples, Catamco, has launched a unique campaign to “rescue” internal refugees — by delivering them to their tormentors.

'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)
‘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)
Catamco, cops, and the Alamara paramilitary group stormed on July 23 the Haran Mission House in Davao City of United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP).

The sprawling compound has served for 21 years as sanctuary for lumad fleeing military abuses in Talaingod and Kapalong towns, Davao del Norte.

Fifteen refugees were hurt when truncheon-wielding cops forced down the gate of the UCCP Haran compound and destroyed the temporary shelters of IP folk. Lumad resistance and the intervention of Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte prevented greater violence.

WATCH VIDEO: Catamco instigates police attack on lumad refugees (with permission by kilab Multimedia Productions)

Catamco was in the thick of the disturbance, the third incident since she started visiting lumad refugees, on invitation of the Save Our Schools network.

‘BRUTAL’ BEHAVIOR

The UCCP bishops condemned “the illegal and violent conduct,” including the “brutal” beating of pastors by cops with truncheons and steel shields.

“We are outraged at this show of excessive force more so because the PNP did not have any warrant to enter and search the Church facility, which is a private property,” the UCCP said at a pressconference.

Church leaders accused Catamco of failing to heed the demands of the Ata-Manobo for an end to military presence near their schools and homes.

She even came with the Alamara, a para-military group whose existence she earlier dismissed.

No less than the refugee parents of the Alamara forces confirmed their identities and affiliation. Among the Alamara members was Perut Malibato of Sitio Patel, Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte.

FAMILY DIVIDED: t was a tearful reunion between ALAMARA member Perut and his refugee lumad parents, Celia and Anayak. They refused to go home.
FAMILY DIVIDED: t was a tearful reunion between ALAMARA member Perut and his refugee lumad parents, Celia and Anayak. They refused to go home.

It was a tearful reunion between Perut and his parents, Celia and Anayak, and younger brother, Alvin.

Refugee leaders allowed Perut to talk with his family. He tried to convince them to return. They refused, reiterating the condition that earlier angered Catamco – they would return only if systems of reforms guarantee a halt to military abuses.

On her first visit, lumad – thinking Catamco was an ally of militant lawmakers who had publicized their plight – gave her a warm welcome.

The atmosphere turned stormy on the second day of dialogue, when she started insulting lumad leaders, demanding their immediate return to Talaingod and Kapalong.

WATCH VIDEO: YOU WANT TO DIE HERE?

Accusing Catamco and cops of bad faith, UCCP said: “Just a few hours prior to the violent incident, the Church facilitated a dialogue with DSWD and NCIP, and came up with resolutions that they would just attend to the needs of the women and children. But even while the resolution was being firmed out, the PNP terrorized the evacuees with their presence in full riot gear, the presence of paramilitary group ALAMARA, demolition team, fire trucks and military trucks, and then proceeded to destroy the gate and forcibly entered the church premises.”

The lumad and their supporters were ready for the storm because Catamco had earlier vowed she would make sure they returned to their mountain villages.

Her first encounter with the lumad at Haran was friendly. After a brief meeting in the company of Makabayan lawmakers, Catamco had promised to come back with officials of the Department of Social Word and Development, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Commission on Human Rights.

But she also arrived with Army generals, the very sector that lumad blame for their plight.

It was in the aftermath of that round when Catamco hurled her first vow to force the lumad back home — where members of their tribe had been murdered, arrested, ambushed and where soldiers have taken over the only schools that have served the needs of lumad children.

Catamco pretends these charges are being exaggerated. Well, WATCH THIS.

The incident happened last year, prompting an evacuation of lumad. Catamco berated the lumad for repeated evacuation. But the reason for that is, because the military has continued to harass schools and communities despite an agreement forged during a past dialogue.

Catamco, the diwata, loves to hear her voice and only her voice. When she doesn’t get her way immediately, she stages a tantrum. She threatens.

On Thursday, she acted on that threat. Tough luck for her, their travails have taught lumad the art of resistance. She was sent on her way, her goddess’ train limp between her legs.

Read more about THE LUMAD GODDESS BETRAYING HER OWN PEOPLE, as the lumad claim she did, on abs-cbnnews.com

These Arroyo terror tactics survive in the time of Aquino


Jovito Palparan, known as the butcher of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo simpered as she hailed as “hero” an officer called “the butcher” for his long record of human rights violations. His name: Jovito Palparan.

Under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, 470 political activists were killed by the state’s armed henchmen. They were either gunned down near their homes and place of work or arrested, tortured and then dumped somewhere. Some, like Jonas Burgos, remain missing.

In 2010, before he took his oath as President, Benigno Aquino III met with European ambassadors over the issue of human rights and vowed to bring “closure” to the one of the worst records for a democracy.

“Cases of extrajudicial killings need to be solved, not just identify the perpetrators but have them captured and sent to jail,” he told journalists after the meeting.

Mrs. Arroyo ruled for nine years. Mr. Aquino is entering the last of his six years in office.

Under the incumbent, the human rights group Karapatan has documented 262 incidents of extrajudicial killings and 292 victims of frustrated killings. Do the math.

Appointments

Jonas’ mother, Edith, his wife and daughter, continue to look for him. One of the officers suspected of having a hand in his abduction – broad daylight, in a crowded Metro Manila mall – has just been appointed Army chief by Mr. Aquino.

Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año was among those charged by Mrs. Burgos for the abduction of Jonas. He was exonerated in what the family called a “whitewash.”

“I believe that at one point during Jonas’ disappearance, Año had custody of Jonas,” Mrs. Burgos stressed in a statement.

She warns that with Año’s appointment as army chief, “there is no hope at all that justice will be obtained for human rights crimes during the watch of Aquino.” Jonas’ mother adds,

I fear for defenders, victims and independent minded human rights workers. With so much power in the hands of a head of an Institution reputed to be a violator of human rights, we can only pray to the Lord Almighty to have mercy.

Like Mrs. Arroyo’s hero, Año’s record – latest as head of the 10th Infantry Division in Mindanao – is littered by a trail of allegations: extrajudicial killings, disappearances, illegal arrests, torture, hamletting and forcible exacuation of civilians, according to Karapatan. He probably accounts for a good share of the 60,000 persons displaced and dislocated due to military operations under Mr. Aquino’s administration.

Why is the son of democratic icons increasingly looking like his much-hated predecessor? There has been no halt to the killings of political dissidents (or journalists). There certainly has been no closure, despite the arrest of Palparan.

Terror tactics

What has happened in the last few months is an upsurge in rights violations. Aside from killings, the stalking of activists has become more pronounced, more brazen, more deliberate and broader in scope.

Several members and officers of COURAGE, the labor federation of government workers, have asked the Supreme Court a writ of amparo.

“It is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security has been violated or is threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.”

Read the Courage petition, with a context on the writ of amparo’s historical background in the Philippines:
Amparo Petition by Courage

https://www.scribd.com/embeds/271709324/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&show_recommendations=true

The stories behind their petition are chilling.

Men going to their homes, or offices, accosting them on the streets, on public transportation – in most cases there is a note with a mobile phone number to call. In all cases, there is one message: We know your (legal) organization serves the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army. Your life is in danger. You cooperate with us, or else.

At the National Food Administration, security staff took in for questioning on April 21 a man with a gun. He was asking for the whereabouts of for Hilario M. Tan, retired NFA employee and former vice president of the National Food Authority Employees Association (NFAEA) and Evelyn P. Garcia, , NFA employee and national assistant secretary general of the organization.

The man claimed to be a Sgt. Borres, liaison officer of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). He could not produce a mission order for his gun. Why he was allowed to leave under these circumstances is a question the NFA should account for.
There are many other cases just in the summer of 2015. You can read about these here.

COURAGE documents stalking of PH government activists

Impunity

Vehicles and men caught trailing Antonieta Setias-Dizon, former Deputy Secretary General of government workers' union COURAGE and still an adviser of the group.
Vehicles and men caught trailing Antonieta Setias-Dizon, former Deputy Secretary General of government workers’ union COURAGE and still an adviser of the group.

You’d think the filing of a writ of amparo petition in the Supreme Court would give harassers some pause.

What happened was the opposite.

Courage adviser and former deputy secretary-general Antonieta Setias-Dizon is among the petitioners. Twice this summer, a man had accosted her, making the same demand as those received by her peers.

Lately, Setias-Dizon documented the presence of a silver Toyota Innova vehicle always on her trail. The vehicle carries the plate number AAM 3129. More than one man are involved in what in military lingo is the surveillance.

That vehicle was parked near the Supreme Court when Setias-Dizon and company filed their petition. It followed her to  the Integrated Bar of the Philippines National Office in Ortigas where she sought refuge. In what seems to be an escalating operation, the Inova was joined by a Red Pajero, another Toyota Innova and three Honda motorcycles. 

I asked new Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon about the latest harassment case. His reply via Facebook:

Thanks for the alert… i had previously written to the AFP Human Rights Office about other reports of harassment of COURAGE leaders… BUT, this is a new development… will have the matter looked into as well… keep the faith!!! Press On

The CHR can monitor. It can issue statements and write letters. But it has no prosecutory powers. Still, if some former activists now in government can risk the ire of their touchy Boss, they would be doing the country a service.

Activists can be pesky for the powers-that-be. Their rallies could inconvenience commuters. But review their role in pushing for reforms: the legal victories leading to the rollback of power rates; the hue and cry and the petitions that led to the landmark SC victories against pork, both legislative (PDAF) and executive (DAP).

Most so-called democratic gains that Filipinos enjoy today were not gifts from the country’s powers. They were fruits of struggle. You let the silence of the grave blanket activists, you let darkness cover our society.

Pope Francis and the Song of Apad


“Namulat sya sa kandungan ng mahihirap at sunog sa araw na mga magulang… Kaya malinaw nyang naintindihan at naranasan ang hagupit at dahas ng kahirapan… habang lumaki, kanyang nasasaksihan ang pagwasak sa ninunong lupa at kalikasan.”

“Parang kalayulayo ng pagkaiba ng salitang katutubo at aktibista, ngunit ang panlulupig, pangangamkam at pangalipusta ang sing bagsik ng bagyong nagtulak sa kanya upang sumanib sa kilusang layong ay lumaya.”

(He woke up to the world, in the embrace of poor, sunburnt parents. He learned to understand the cruelty and lash of poverty and, as he grew, saw the destruction of his ancestors’ lands. There is a vast difference between the word lumad and activist, but oppression and thievery, plunder and humiliation were storm winds that drove him to the movement of people who seek to be free.)

The middle class audience stirred at the start of this poetry of rage, discomfort clear as they listened to the slight, 12-year-old boy. But as Apad Enriquez went on, kerchiefs came out to wipe eyes filled with tears.

This was a child, talking about blood spilled on the land of his people, the Manobo of Surigao del Sur. This was a child who cried himself to sleep at night, wondering whether his father would be given one more night of freedom or be caught in the enemy’s trap.

This was a boy, the same age as their own children, who had just made a 300-km trek from the mountains of his hometown to the national capital.

“My boy complains that he lacks ‘load’ for his cellphone,” said Tess, a banker. “Apad talks of schools burnt and bullets raining on their homes.”

apad-011415Despite regular disruptions to his schooling, the son of wanted indigenous leader Genasque Enriquez chatted easily about math and science (the stars and planets and the universe) to his new friends in Manila. He and his cousin, Ben, and 14-year-old Angeline also got praise for their flawless English and Filipino.

They thanked teacher Anabelle Campos, with them on their Lakbayan, for her dedication.

Work exacts a tough price from Campos, who was also schooled in alternative learning centers managed by faith groups.

Manobo women at the funeral rites for New People's Army commander, Leoncio Pitao.
Manobo women at the funeral rites for New People’s Army commander, Leoncio Pitao.

Campos has been threatened with arrest. Whenever forced to evacuate to the town center, she faces a barrage of taunts: “There goes the teacher of the children of the NPA.”

The communist New People’s Army is strong in the hinterlands of Mindanao, as it is in the country’s poorest provinces. Other rebel groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), traditionally find recruits amid a vacuum in governance and the struggle over land and natural resources.

Children ask, ‘Why?’

Despite the poverty of their lumad community, Campos and children managed to keep tabs on Pope Francis’ January visit to the Philippines.

In havens for children of militarized communities, rooms fell silent as the Pope embrace Glyzelle Palomara, a former street waif, who broke down asking why God allows children to suffer.

Campos’ Manobo wards come from a different milieu but they, too, struggle with emotional scars from early exposure to violence.

Ben’s brother was tortured.

One of the children had braved interrogation by armed men on the hunt for his neighbor.

A few minutes after Angeline wowed her Manila audience with a lyrical Filipino poem, she learned that parents and siblings had fled their village for the nth time. She would be going home to an evacuation center.

Apad laughed when asked why he was on the streets, not in school.

“Bakit doon, bakwit dito, walang katapusan” he replied. (There is no end to our flight.)

Like Gizelle, like the indigenous people of South America forced into subjugation by colonizers, the children of the Manobo wake up asking, “Why?”

Why does death haunt their people? Why do strangers want their land?

Why do fathers have to leave and mothers have to weep when husbands and children are brought home bloodied?

Why do their calls for help, for justice go unheard?

Pope urges action

Mother and child at the Guindulungan Evacuation centre. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching
Mother and child at the Guindulungan Evacuation centre. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching

Nardy Sabino of the Promotion for Church People’s Rights (PCPR) says that in Bolivia, Pope Francis spoke to all the world’s indigenous peoples.

The Pope, he says, did not just call for a stop to injustice. He actually asked Catholics – and anyone who cares to listen – to actively work for change.

The Pope, he adds, was emphasized the need for a “preferential, evangelical option for the poor”.

The world’s first Latin American Pope traced his call for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Sabino asks, “Will the faithful follow Pope Francis?”

Marian Ching, a young development activist who has worked with lumad and Muslims, says Filipino IPs need Pope Francis.

“Reading Pope Francis’ support for indigenous peoples in his second encyclical, where he says ‘for indigenous communities, land is not a commodity, but a gift from God, a sacred space,’ meant a lot to me given my work here in Mindanao, where indigenous peoples are among ‘the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged’ and constantly subjected to human rights violations as they struggle for land and their rights. “

Taking testimony of 'bakwit', people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, in Sultan Kudarat. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching
Taking testimony of ‘bakwit’, people forced to leave their homes due to conflict, in Sultan Kudarat. Photo courtesy of Marian Ching

It is important to heed the Pope’s call to recognize those of the faith who dedicate their lives to the people’s struggles, “often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements,” says Ching.

She cites the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel that has “tirelessly supported the B’laan’s fight for land and rights in Tampakan, South Cotabato.”

That struggle against foreign corporation Glencore and its local allies has led to the murders of at least ten indigenous leaders in the area.

Ching also credits church leaders who “voice “their support for the peace process, which hopes to address injustices committed against our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters, who may also be considered a minority population in our country.”

Tradition of service

Clemente Bautista, the national coordinator of environmental group Karapatan has another question. “With the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) take up Pope Francis’ challenge?”

Philippine IPs face a crisis, say Bautina, Sabino and Ching.

Photo of Manobo elder courtesy at funeral honours for Leoncio Pitao of the New People's Army courtesy of Obet de Castro
Photo of Manobo elder courtesy at funeral honours for Leoncio Pitao of the New People’s Army courtesy of Obet de Castro

Karapatan reports that more than 30 of the 48 environmentalists killed in the last six years are indigenous leaders. The trail of killings sprawls from northern Luzon and Palawan and to the provinces of Mindanao.

In Northern Mindanao alone, 23 IP leaders have died since October 2014, according to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. That’s three IP leaders every month. In most cases, the suspects are big corporations or political clans out to wrest IP land.

Sabino believes Pope Francis will galvanize religious of all faiths and the laity.

The Pope apologized in Bolivia for the Catholic Church’s role in the subjugation of indigenous people’s. But he also took pride in clergy who risked their lives to serve oppressed communities.

“We cannot believe in God the Father without seeing a brother or sister in every person, and we cannot follow Jesus without giving our lives for those for whom he died on the cross,” Pope Francis said.

Photo by Obet de Ca
Photo by Obet de Ca

The Philippine churches have a rich tradition of serving the rural poor. Priests, nuns and lay leaders in basic Christian communities have all fallen to death squads while campaigning against human rights violations and other abuses.

“When we give succor to communities, we do not ask if people are Catholics,” says Spanish Claretian missionary Angel Calvo, who has spent decades in the island-province of Basilan.

Thirty years ago, Bacolod Bishop Antonio Fortich thundered at military officials who accused his priests of feeding communist rebels.

“A hungry stomach knows no color,” said the prelate who braved threats, and even a grenade attack on his residence, and succeeded in convincing the more conservative Pope John Paul II to confront the Marcos dictatorship on the issue of human rights.

Listening with his soul

The religious continue to serve and they continue to minister under grave threats in Mindanao. No less than the Philippine Secretary of Social Work, Corazon Soliman, has attacked their work with the IPs.

Seeing lumad children among a crowd protesting militarization in Talaingod, Davao Oriental, Soliman accused the church groups of violating children’s rights.

Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the indigenous alliance KATRIBU), said the official was trying to gloss over the government’s responsibility for lumad children’s plight.

“The children were at the rally because they had lost their schools,” Malayao pointed out.

Pope Francis, a hugger to all comers, is very much a people’s prelate, eschewing abstractions for messages that reflect on people’s daily lives.

Campos earlier said the Pope seems to have the ability to listen “at the level of soul.”

In Bolivia, he spoke of names and faces, of hearts breaking because of sorrow and pain. Praising community organizers and those to live with indigenous people, the Pope stressed the difference between “abstract theorizing” and the empathy borne of seeing and hearing the pain of others and absorbing this as one’s own.

“That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone,” said the Pope. “It has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.”

He could have been talking of Apad of the Manobo and other youth of other tribes and ethnic groups across the country.

Apad may never get the chance to meet this Pope. But in his pain-wracked nights, this young man can take comfort knowing that Francis believes in what little people can do.

This is a Pope who hears Apad’s song and understands that his people need to fight for their land – or die as slaves.