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COMMENTARY: We Want to Speak, Hear Us

An Open Letter of MICHELLE CAMPOS, ALCADEV Graduate and Daughter of Dionel Campos, Chairperson of MAPASU to SOLITA COLLAS-MONSOD, in response to her article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 19, titled “Who is exploiting the Lumad?”

22 September 2015

You are very fortunate to live in Manila, and you see how the military has become “a whole different kettle of fish from the martial law years”. May we then invite you to our community in Han-ayan, especially during the operations of the military?

On August 30, troops from the 75th and 36th IBPA, came to our community. They encamped next to our house and within our high school grounds in ALCADEV. They spoke to us, asked where our datu and chairperson of our organization were. They warned the students to beware of the “wakwak” (a creature in folklore that attacks and kills brutally at night) who will be coming. They are in our community until now.

On September 1, at around 3am, the killers came. Some of them, I personally know while others were kin to our community. Most of them were members of a paramilitary group called Taskforce Gantangan under the Arroyo Government, and reintroduced themselves as the Bagani Force and Magahat in the time of Aquino III. We have seen how they were part of military operations, coming in and out of military camps, being introduced to our community as leaders of such groups. They woke the people up and forced them to gather in the basketball court. They prevented Tatay Emok from leaving the school guest house, tied his hands and feet, slit his throat, shot his chest, and left him dead. They accused us of supporting the NPA, and accused our Datu Bello, my grandfather, of corruption from the revolutionary tax that he gets. They told us to leave our community in 2 days or else they will finish us all. They killed Onel, my father and our Chairperson; they shot him in the head in front of our community, in front of my three younger siblings. While proudly firing their rifles around our people, they dragged Datu Bello away and shot him. After the shots were filed, Datu Bello was barely breathing and his arms were broken. Most of the soldiers were just 400 meters away from the killing field, on elevated ground, overlooking our houses. On the same day, we left our community, brought the 3 corpses of our beloved, and walked at least 16 kilometers towards sanctuary. Along the way, we passed by platoons of soldiers. Some of them were laughing while others had no reaction at all, not even to inquire about the dead bodies.

Almost 3000 individuals from more than 500 families – our families and communities – are now in Tandag City. Last year, we also left our lands after the same paramilitary group under Marcial Belandres killed Henry Alameda, a council member of our organization, on October 24in San Isidro, Lianga. Other incidents, most of which you have probably never heard about, have happened for the past years and are still happening now in different lumad communities.

Ma’am Monsod, after saying this, will you also bear the same thinking of the AFP and include us in your list of the “hard left”? Mind you, this fits the pattern: we get vilified, we get killed, then our just demands against the military operations within our communities and schools are trivialized, the reason behind the systematic killing and displacement reduced to an internal conflict that lays the blame on the victims.

We have our indigenous knowledge and systems and it pains us that these are coopted and bastardized by the government’s counter-insurgency program. Our datus and elders have certainly upheld our own traditional systems to defend our lands and community. Many have died, many were killed because they stood up for our land and indigenous systems and spoke of our plight – my father, my grandfather, and my school’s executive director, are just a few of them.

We speak, but we are constantly being silenced by the absence of services for education, historical discrimination, and outright repression and terrorism. We seek help from different organizations and churches, including Katribu and other indigenous peoples organizations, the Makabayan bloc to let our voices be heard in Congress, KARAPATAN for documentation and monitoring of human rights violations based on our testimonies and experiences. We give them mandate as we are part of these organizations, and we believe that it is the duty of these organizations to use this mandate to support and defend us. If only Papa or Datu Bello is alive, they would be more than willing to speak. Now hear us, give us your space and let us speak.

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