Lumad group, victims call for CHR probe of rights abuses in Bukidnon

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Datu Jomorito Goaynon, Kalumbay Lumad
Datu Jomorito Goaynon, chairperson of the Kalumbay Lumad Organization (left) together with Amelia Omandam talks to the media outside the CHR regional office in Cagayan de Oro City. Photographed by Erwin M. Mascariñas, News5 | InterAksyon

Cagayan de Oro City – Several individuals, together with an Indigenous People’s (IP) organization, reached out to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Region 10 Office to move for the investigation of paramilitary groups, soldiers and police personnel in Bukidnon province and in other parts of Northern Mindanao for alleged abuse of human rights.

“We strongly condemn the continuous violation of the human rights of IPs and farmers in Northern Mindanao committed by paramilitary groups and state forces. We’ve seen the spike in extra judicial killings, warrantless arrests, and trumped-up cases. Several IP communities have also been displaced due to harassment action especially after the declaration of Martial Law,” claimed Datu Jomorito Goaynon, chairperson of the Kalumbay Lumad Organization.

Tito Valdehueza
Tito Valdehueza, investigator at the CHR Region-10 interviews the farmers on their complaints and the alleged abuse their loved ones had experienced. Erwin M. Mascariñas, News5 | InterAksyon

Goaynon alleged that paramilitary groups backed by soldiers have been behind several instances of human right violations in several of the towns in Bukidnon.

“Since May 2017 until the month of July, we have documented several cases of abuses committed by paramilitary groups, such as the Alamara. We are asking the CHR to investigate deeply. Most of the people affected and victimized are poor people who can’t afford to fight their way in court. Their only hope is for the CHR to investigate and, it is hoped, help bring justice to those affected,” said Goaynon.

Amelia Omendam, village secretary of Barangay Eden in the town of Pangantucan, was one of those who reached out to the CHR regional office to request assistance, even as she claimed they have been victims of a witch hunt by soldiers and police personnel.

“Last July 19, at around 7:00 in the evening, police personnel from the Bukidnon Provincial Public Safety Company (PPSC) forced their way into our house by kicking our door and then they took us, me and my husband Afredo Omandam. My husband is a member of our barangay’s civilian volunteers and rescue brigade. I’ve served our barangay for six years and never have we’ve indulged ourselves in any criminal activity. They took us directly to the army barracks in Maramag Bukidnon and not to the police station, and, there, they turned us over to the Criminal Investigation Detection Group (CIDG). It was in CIDG that they made my husband acknowledge the bomb making materials and explosives they placed on the table. We did not have any of those items in our house, we don’t understand why they did it to us,” said Amelia Omendam, who pleaded for assistance from CHR to have her husband released.

Omendam claimed that all the accusations against her husband were just contrived and that the alleged explosives found in their position were all planted.

Her husband is currently detained at the Malaybalay City Police Station with a case under Republic Act 9516, illegal position of explosive.

Beryl G. Sabalande, 30 years old, from Purok 17, Barangay Lilingayon, Valencia City also tried to reach out to CHR to request that the case involving her sister be investigated.

“Last July 12, at around 9:00 in the morning; my sister, Gretchen Espera, together with her husband, were detained after firearms were allegedly found in their home, which I believe is not true. We are just flower farmers, we come to Cagayan de Oro every week to deliver our flowers, and we have never been into subversive actions against our government. We hope the CHR can help us, we are just poor farmers,” said Sabalande.

Tito Valdehueza, investigator at the CHR Region-10, pointed out that his office staff will look into the complaints, and find time to visit the area and investigate further to get the facts right and validate claims and counter claims of the alleged victims and those on the side of the government forces.