MANILA, Philippines — A human rights organization has written the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people to report the latest atrocities against lumad in Mindanao, particularly the alleged massacre of eight T’boli and Dulangan Manobo in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato and evacuations in Surigao del Sur, Sarangani and Agusan del Sur.
The submission to UN rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who is Filipino, came as the Save Our Schools Network, which works in support of schools set up and operated in lumad communities by religious and civil society organizations, reported that volunteer teachers have been singled out for harassment and prevented from rejoining their displaced students in Lianga.
Communists rebels in southern Mindanao, on the other hand, said the Lake Sebu incident happened when troops of the 27th IB “approached the house of the chieftain Datu Victor Danyan and opened fire. This prompted the residents, armed with 12-gauge shotguns and indigenous weapons, to fight back.”
The incident in Sitio Datal Bonglangon, Barangay Ned left Datu Victor Danyan, his sons Victor Jr. and Artemio Danyan, Pato Celardo, Samuel Angkoy, To Diamante, Bobot Lagase, and Mateng Bantaldead and Luben and Teteng Laod and a “minor”wounded, Ka Efren Aksasato, spokesman of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Far South Mindanao Region, said.
The military insists the slain lumad were New People’s Army fighters who were killed in a clash that also saw two soldiers dead.
Environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights advocacy groups, however, say Danyan and the other victims as members of the T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization, which has been campaigning to protect their ancestral land from a commercial coffee plantation.
Akasasato also said the clash with the rebels happened after the alleged massacre, when “a unit of the Mt. Daguma Operations Command-NPA operating in area immediately responded to rescue the fleeing civilians” and “engaged the maneuvering forces of the 33rd IB-AFP (Infantry Battalion-Armed Forces of the Philippines) a kilometer away from the community.”
A rebel fighter died in this clash, he said.
Aside from the Lake Sebu incident, Tauli-Corpuz was also apprised of the evacuations in Lianga and San Agustin, Surigao del Sur; Alabel and Malapatan in Sarangani; and San Luis town, Agusan del Sur.
KARAPATAN’S LETTER TO UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR TAULI-CORPUZ:
In Surigao del Sur, 1,173 individuals, or at least 244 families, from at least nine lumad communities in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga and Barangay Buhisan, San Agustin, as well as 406 sttudents and 59 teachers of nine tribal schools fled November 26 when the 75th IB launched operations near their communities.
On December 1, 210 Blaan households left the villages of Lilab, Basyawan, Balataan, Banlas, and Makol, on the boundary of Alabel and Malapatan, “due to the incessant attacks of elements of the 73rd IB,” while 139 Banwaon from San Pedro, Binicalan and Mahagsay in San Luis, Agusan del Sur fled their homes on December 4.
“These recent incidents and previous cases of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests, harassment and forcible evacuation of indigenous communities in Mindanao are illustrative of the worsening human rights situation in the country, as exacerbated by the counter-insurgency program and drug war,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay told Tauli-Corpuz. “With the martial law declaration still in place, and with recent pronouncements of the military endorsing the extension of said declaration to allegedly quell terrorist threats, the situation is bound to impact on civilians, especially indigenous communities in Mindanao, who have experienced grave threats on their lives and security in the past years.”
“The common factor in all these abuses is the conduct of military operations in communities. It is the military’s unwelcome presence in these areas that have uprooted indigenous communities from their homes and have endangered their lives and livelihood,” she added as she asked the UN expert to conduct an independent investigation.
The SOS Network, on the other hand, said that “after exposing military abuses, volunteers of lumad schools are now being targeted by the military by harassing them on ground and online, blocking them from going back to the evacuation, and spreading black propaganda about the school tagging them as ‘schools and supporters of terrorist NPA’.”
It said teachers of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development in Lianga were singled out and blocked from going to the evacuation site where they hope to resume classes.
On September 1, 2015, tens of thousands of lumad fled their villages in the hinterlands of Surigao del Sur after a military-backed militia murdered ALCADEV executive director Emerito Samarca and Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Joello Sinzo while a nearby Army unit did nothing to prevent the killings or apprehend the perpetrators.
The military has also openly accused lumad schools of advocating support for communist rebels while soldiers and militiamen are regularly reported to occupy the learning centers and tribal communities, invariably triggering evacuations.
Teachers from schools run by the church-based Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur who left the evacuation site “were interrogated by the military, asked if they are teachers of ALCADEV and then photographed. They were then required by the military to show IDs and cedulas should they want to enter again,” SOS added.
Earlier, SOS and other groups accused the military of enforcing a food blockade, preventing relief, including that from the local government, from reaching the evacuees.
The Facebook page of the 401st Infantry Brigade, on the other hand, posted an article by Radyo Pilipinas Butuan about an interview with Captain Francis Garello, an Army civil military operations officer, who linked the lumad evacuations to a supposed rebel strategy to force the military to halt operations.
In the article, Garello was quoted as saying: “Meron po talagang klarong alyansa ng CPP/NPA sa mga legal na prente ng NDF, ito ‘yung MAPASU, TRIFPSS at ALCADEV, mas tinitingnan nila ang mga isyu kaysa doon sa pag–resolba sa mga isyu ng bakwit sa Lianga (Surigao del Sur) kahit naman hindi direkta na apektado (ng military operations).”
(There is a clear alliance between the CPP/NPA with the legal fronts of the NDF, these are MAPASU, TRIFPSS and ALCADEV, they raise these issues instead of resolving the issue of the evacuations in Lianga even if they are not directly affected.)