State forces blocking assistance to Surigao del Sur ‘bakwit’ – lumad supporters

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An aid worker vainly negotiates with Army soldiers for aid to be delivered to hundreds of lumad evacuees in the hinterlands of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. (photo courtesy of Chad Booc)

MANILA, Philippines — Government security forces have allegedly been preventing food aid from reaching more than a thousand lumad evacuees, including students of tribal schools, who have been staying in a hinterland village of Lianga, Surigao del Sur since fleeing their homes on November 26.

Chad Booc, a University of the Philippines graduate who volunteers as a teacher at the Alternative Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development in Han-ayan, barangay Diatagon, said aside from 244 families, or 1,170 individuals, from 12 communities, 406 students and 59 teachers from ALCADEV and another school run by the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur, have been staying at the community called Kilometer 9, which he said “is the nearest to the national highway.”

The latest evacuation, like earlier incidents, was triggered by military operations in the vicinity of the Manobo communities, Booc said.

These communities were among those that joined the massive lumad exodus triggered by the murders of ALCADEV executive director Emerito Samarca and Manobo leaders Dionel Campos, chaiman of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod or Mapasu, and Datu Jovello Sinzo on September 1, 2015 by members of the Bagani militia.

The killings happened in sight of nearby Army units that did nothing to prevent the atrocities or apprehend the perpetrators. In the succeeding months, the Army and its allied militias portrayed ALCADEV and the lumad communities as communist rebel supporters and military officers even escorted one militia commander to a congressional hearing where he justified the killing of Samarca for supposedly “poisoning” the minds of tribal youth.

Aside from being suspected of supporting the rebels, the Andap Valley, which the tribal communities consider their ancestral domain, has long been eyed by mining firms because of its rich deposits of coal and precious minerals.

Lumad from hinterland communities of Lianga, Surigao del Sur begin evacuating their homes to avoid military operations. (photo from Higala: Friends of the Lumad in Caraga)

Booc, who was away from ALCADEV to help prepare for a regional assembly of lumad supporters when the evacuations started, said he joined three attempts by various groups, including the Catholic church and the Lianga local government, to deliver assistance to the displaced tribal folk between November 28 and December 1.

All attempts, including the last one, which was accompanied by Lianga Councilos Sammy Dollano and Merenciano Martiza, were turned back by soldiers of the 75th Infantry Battalion.

This prompted Dollano to issue a message, re-posted by ALCADEV on its social media page, saying: “Food assistance from humanitarian aid workers could hardly get to the area as the AFP imposed food blockade of that sort. Thank you for any valuable assistance you could possibly extend us.

This should be seriously investigated as massive violations of HR (human rights) re: IHL (international humanitarian law) have been committed despite our repeated request for possible and orderly pull out of troops and entry of material assistance from NGO/CSO partners.”

Booc said the councilors agreed to accompany them after the LGU initially turned down their offer to join an earlier aid delivery on November 29 after the military talked to the team from the town.

The December 1 delivery attempt also saw some 70 visitors, including children, who had hoped to attend the Interschool Festival of TRIFPSS, even if several of them were from the displaced communities.