Reds declare unilateral 7-day ceasefire


CPP-NPA ceasefire declaration orders a halt to all offensives but mandates guerrilla units to take “active defense” when faced with hostile actions by state security forces. The ceasefire order also defines “hostile actions.” But it is silent on paramilitary forces known to be trained and supervised by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

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New People’s Army rebels in Northern Samar during the 44th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Photo courtesy of http://www.philippinerevolution.net

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) has declared a seven-day ceasefire “to celebrate and bolster the resumption of formal GRP-NDFP peace talks.”

The ceasefire will take effect starting 12:01 a.m. of August 21 and will last until 11:59 p.m. of August 27.

The CPP central committee said the NDF negotiating panel to peace talks with President Rodrigo Duterte’s government recommended the ceasefire. It said the ceasefire will take effect with or without reciprocal action from the government.

The directive came after an announcement that the NPA would release prisoners of war. NDF negotiating panel member Fidel Agcaoili said the NDF has six prisoners of war, all in Mindanao. Four are in the Caraga and Surigao regions; two, in the Southern Mindanao region.

The formal talks between the negotiating panels of the NDFP and GRP are scheduled for August 22-26 and will be held in Oslo, Norway.

“This ceasefire declaration is encouraged by the GRP’s facilitation of the release of nearly all NDFP consultants who are set to participate in peace negotiations in the course of the next several months,” said the CPP and NPA.

“With or without reciprocation by the GRP, the NPA must maintain a high-level of alertness against enemy troop movements,” said the CPP. “Even while ready to engage in defensive action, the NPA will exert efforts to carry out early counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters during the specified ceasefire period.

When Duterte met with consultants of the NDF in Malacanang last week, he told them to ignore the angry words unleashed in the last few weeks, whether in tit-for-tat exchanges with exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison or during a round of visits to military camps.

NDF consultants interviewed following their release from prison acknowledged concern at Duterte’s rantings.

But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s words and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”

The consultants seem to have gotten that right.

Active defense

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The CPP-NPA ceasefire directive mandates guerrilla units to main ‘active defense’ of their territories.

The ceasefire directive, which was furnished to media, ordered regular guerrilla units and people’s militia to cease offensive military operations against personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

But the communist leadership also told rebel units to “remain on defensive mode at both the strategic and tactical levels.”

Local commands, the statement said, should maintain a high degree of militancy and vigilance against any hostile actions or movements by enemy armed forces with the aim of encirclement and suppression.”

It defined hostile actions thus:

“The NPA shall consider as hostile action encroachments on the territory of the people’s democratic government by operating troops of the AFP and its paramilitaries to conduct surveillance, psywar and other offensive operations that are labelled as “peace and development”, “civil-military”, “peace and order” and “law enforcement” operations.

Active-defense operations by the NPA shall be undertaken only in the face of clear and imminent danger and actual armed attack by the enemy forces and only after exhausting counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters.”

It ordered local units to report hostile actions, provocations or movements to the concerned NPA commands and CPP leadership.

The ceasefire directive told NPA units not to arrest individual cops and soldiers with “no serious liabilities other than their membership in their armed units”  and allow them to “enter the territory of the people’s democratic government to make personal visits to relatives and friends.”

Silence on paramilitary groups

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The ceasefire order was markedly silent on paramilitary groups that abound in Mindanao. While officially not part of the AFP organisational structure, local government officials across Mindanao have exposed the military as the organiser, trainer and supervisor of these armed groups.

Human rights advocates and indigenous people’s organisations across Mindanao say the paramilitary are the AFP’s dirty tricks department. Partly funded by big mining and plantation firms under an executive order signed by former President Benigno Aquino III, these groups have killed dozens of indigenous leaders.

Paramilitary forces have also and stepped up their attacks since the proclamation of Duterte as winner of the 2016 presidential elections.

Read: EVEN AS PEACE TALKS POISED TO RESUME, ATTACKS ON LEGAL ACTIVISTS HEIGHTEN

Consultants released

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Wilma Tiamzon and Concha Araneta-Bocala embrace with joy  following their release from separate places of detention.

The CPP information bureau emailed journalists the statement a few hours after the National Democratic Front – Southern Mindanao said it was set to release some prisoners of war as a goodwill measure.

Read: NPA to release POWs as gesture of goodwill

As of press time, Karapatan executive director Christina Palabay said 19 of 22 declared NDF consultants have been freed from detention.

1. Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala
2. Tirso Alcantara
3. Ariel Arbitrario
4. Kennedy Bangibang
5. Alex Birondo
6. Winona Birondo
7. Pedro Codaste
8. Renante Gamara
9. Eddie Genelsa
10. Alan Jazmines
11. Ernesto Lorenzo
12. Alfredo Mapano
13. Ruben Saluta
14. Jaime Soledad
15. Adelberto Silva
16. Loida Magpatoc
17. Benito Tiamzon
18. Wilma Tiamzon
19. Porferio Tuna

Three others have been convicted. Lawyer Edre Olalia, who helps the NDF panel in the peace talks, said they would be moving soon to help facilitate the release of the remaining consultants.

Read: Tears, hugs and NDF consultants walk free

The CPP stated  cited the case of Ka Eduardo Sarmiento,  arrested in February 2009, convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2013.

The CPP reiterated its “deep appreciation of the determined efforts of GRP President Duterte to push forward and accelerate the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations as a means of addressing the roots of the civil war in the Philippines.”

“We hope that this ceasefire declaration will be reciprocated by the GRP as a show of all-out determination to move forward with peace negotiations,” said the CPP.

Captured cops

NDF peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili shared the POW release announcement as top underground leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon walked out of Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and their place of detention since their capture in June 2015.

The POW release statement mentioned only two by name. One of them was Governor Generoso Police Chief Insp. Arnold Ongachen, captured during an NPA raid on their police station on May 28, before President Rodrigo Duterte’s assumption of power.

Agcaoili said the NPA was ready to release  POWs in Caraga but facilitation was delayed by military operations.

“The GRP panel wanted to be at the turnover but as they’re here, maybe other officials can do it. Actually, those four were to have been released earlier but the big AFP operations delayed the release. Even the GRP panel said there was very heavy fighting and so they did not want to enter the area that time.”

Then still mayor of Davao City, Duterte immediately asked rebels to release the police officer. Duterte has accepted turnovers of captured cops and soldiers in the past.

But on June 2, citing a rebel report on the seizure of some drugs from Ongachen’s office, Duterte said he was leaving the cop to the mercy of the NPA and suggested, half in jest, a sentence of 20 years of hard labor.

The PNP and the AFP mounted operations to get the captured police officers and other soldiers captured in Agusan but have failed to make headway so far.

Ceasefire woes

Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire during his first State of the Nation Address. While rebels welcomed it, they sought clearer details of its implementation.

Three days after, the NPA ambushed a joint paramilitary and AFP team. The action, which the NPA explained as part of its active defense measure, killed some soldiers and wounded others.

An angry Duterte rescinded his ceasefire order amid a series of angry exchanges with senior NDF consultant and CPP founder, Jose Maria Sison.

Later, in several visits to military camps across the country, Duterte would unleash diatribes on the NPA, insisting the use of command-detonated mines is a violation of the Genera Convention. The rebels insist the treaty only covers contact-activated mines.

NDF consultants acknowledged concern at Duterte’s tirades. But speaking for his comrades, Adelberto Silva said they learned to tune out the President’s rants and instead “focus on the actions moving the peace talks forward.”

The CPP statement said rebels will push their call for Duterte to “issue a general amnesty to pave the way for the release of all political prisoners.” Militant party-list groups have filed a measure in the House of Representatives. The President earlier said he will declare amnesty after a final peace agreement.

Rebels said they are also open to discussing a longer ceasefire “upon completion of the release of all political prisoners.”

 

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.

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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.

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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

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.