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COMMENTARY: Stalked by Death: Indigenous Lumad killings continue in the Philippines

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/23 Dec) — The Lumad peoples of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao are composed of 18 different ethnolingustic groups, including the B’laan, Higaonon, Manobo and Subanon peoples. They are some of the poorest people in the country despite the fact that their ancestral lands are some of the most fertile lands on the island and much of the mineral resources of Mindanao are located within their territories. For years, the Lumad have been fighting an uphill battle to retain control of their ancestral territories against corporate encroachment, plunder and militarization. This struggle has resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of Lumad deaths, many falling victim to extrajudicial killings perpetrated by military, paramilitary and private security forces. Most of these abuses, however, have gone unpunished.

The new Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, the first one to hail from Mindanao, is a known supporter of the fight against Lumad killings. Despite the promise of change, death still haunts the Lumad of Mindanao.

Deadly history

When Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stepped down in 2010 after being President of the Philippines for nine years, she left behind a bloody trail of Lumad killings. Human rights organization Karapatan documented a total of 89 cases of extrajudicial killings of indigenous peoples during the Arroyo administration, and many of these were Lumad.

Her successor, Benigno Aquino III, had a worse human rights record — 102 indigenous people were killed during his six-year term. According to a shadow report submitted to the United Nations in late 2016, 87 of the IP killings involved the Lumad.. Some of the most gruesome killings of Lumad happened during his term.

On 18 October 2012, soldiers under the 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army (PA) strafed the house of B’laan anti-mining resistance leader Daguil Capion in the village of Bong Mal in Tampakan town, South Cotabato province. Capion was injured but managed to escape, but his pregnant wife Juvy, 27, and their children Pop, 13, and Janjan,8, died in the shooting incident. Soldiers also brought the remains of the dead out of the house, an act which violated the B’laan culture. Among the B’laans, it is considered taboo for non-relatives to disturb the remains of the dead.

On the afternoon of 18 August 2015, Datu Herminio Samia, 70, his children Joebert, 20, and Emir, 19, as well as his other relatives Elmer, 17, and Norman, 13, were killed by members of the 1st Special Forces Battalion in Sitio Mando, Brgy. Mendis, Pangantucan town in Bukidnon province. According to the lone survivor of the incident, the 15-year-old son of Datu Herminio, the five victims, who were members of the Manobo tribe, were shot one by one by the soldiers.. The military, on the other hand, claimed the five were all members of the New People’s Army and what transpired was a legitimate armed encounter between the military and the Communist rebels.

Paramilitary forces also went on a killing spree in the town of Lianga in Surigao del Sur province. At 4 am on 1 September 2015, members of the Magahat-Bagani Force woke up residents of Diatagon village in Lianga, Surigao del Sur and forced them to gather in the village square. There, the Magahat-Bagani shot and killed Datu Dionel Campos, 41, and Datu Jovello Sinzo, 69. Residents rushed to the house of Emerito Samarca, 54, only to find him dead, as well.

Samarca was executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), an award-winning non-government organization that ran a school for indigenous people in the area. Campos and Sinzo were tribal chieftains who had repeatedly called for the disbandment of paramilitary forces in the province.

Is change coming?

Duterte handily won the Presidency with a promise of change, with his predecessor’s administration widely seen as corrupt, inept, elitist, and insensitive to the plight of ordinary Filipinos. In his inaugural address, Duterte stated his inclination of inclusion of indigenous peoples’ interests and agenda, especially the Lumad, in the peace process with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which is waging the longest-running Maoist revolution in the world and which counts many Lumad as fighters of the New People’s Army (NPA), its armed wing.

Yet nearly six months into his term as president, at least ten cases of extrajudicial killings of Lumad have already taken place.

On July 12, three Higaonon men were shot and killed by private security forces employed by Ramcar, Inc., in Brgy. Lupiagan, Sumilao, Bukidnon. The killed Higaonons were members of the Sitio Inalsahan Indigenous Peoples Organization, which has an ongoing land dispute with Ramcar, a company engaged in cattle ranching. The site of Ramcar’s ranch is well within the ancestral lands of the Higaonon of Lupiagan.

On July 15, only three days after the killings in Sumilao, motorcycle-riding men fired at Bagobo tribal leader Hermie Alegre, 31, in Tugbok district, Davao City. Alegre died en route to the hospital. He was the chairperson of the Kahugpungan sa mga Lumad, an organization of Bagobo people engaged in a land dispute with the religious group Jesus Christ: A Name Above Every Name. The indigenous rights organization PASAKA pointed to the 84th IBPA and the paramilitary group Alamara as perpetrators of the shooting incident.

A pregnant Tigwahanon Manobo woman died and five others were injured when members of the paramilitary group New Indigenous Peoples Army for Reforms (NIPAR) rained bullets on Manobo people celebrating a wedding in the village of Tibugawan, Brgy. Kawayan, San Fernando, Bukidnon on 30July 2016. Butsoy Salusad, the head of NIPAR, has also been tagged  as behind the killing of Matigsalog tribal leader Jimmy Liguyon in 2012. An arrest warrant was issued for his arrest, but police and military forces have so far failed to enforce the warrant, and Salusad was even seen together with military and police personnel on different occasions despite the warrant.

Two Banwaon indigenous rights activists were also shot dead in separate incidents on 12 August 2016, in the town of San Luis, Agusan del Sur. Jerry Loyola, 42, went to answer a knock on the door of his house in Brgy. Balit and was shot three times in the chest. He died instantly. Not even an hour later, Jimmy Barosa of Brgy. Kasilayan was also shot in the back while taking a rest in front of his house. Both attackers fled on motorcycles afterwards. Both were members of the organization Tagdumahan, which was actively campaigning against the entry of mining and logging companies on Banwaon ancestral territories. Tagdumahan has been tagged by the Philippine Army as supporters of the NPA and its members had been repeatedly harassed by paramilitary groups.

In Compostela Valley, anti-mining activist Jimmy Liguyon was shot by two motorcycle-riding men in the town Montevista in Compostela Valley province on 10 October 2016. Liguyon, a member of the Mandaya tribe, managed to ask for help from bystanders and was rushed to the hospital in Compostela town and then transferred to another hospital in Tagum City, where he died the next day. Liguyon was an officer of the Comval Farmers Association and actively campaigned against entry of the Agusan Minerals and Petroleum Corporation in Compostela town, and was also a critic of the human rights abuses committed by the 66th IBPA.

Three days later, another anti-mining Lumad activist was killed in Compostela Valley province. Joselito Pasaporte, a member of the Mansaka tribe and the group Panalipdan Youth, was shot dead in front of the Mabini town cockpit by an unidentified gunman. Police investigators said Pasaporte was number 6 on its druglist and his killing was most probably drug-related. Human rights group Karapatan refuted police claims, saying the military was behind the slaying of Pasaporte because of his stand against large-scale mining.

No policy changes yet

Activists have lauded many of Duterte’s statements and proposed policy changes as being pro-people, such as his criticism of American intervention in Philippine affairs as well as appointment of several progressives into his Cabinet. Yet they have also remained critical of his other programs, such as his anti-drug war which has already claimed the lives of at least 5000 suspected drug users and criminals.

Duterte’s predecessor Aquino’s Internal Security Plan, Oplan Bayanihan, has been widely criticized by different groups as the template of state-sponsored terrorism and extrajudicial killings. Despite calls for its scrapping, Duterte has yet to implement a new security plan in exchange for the one he inherited. As such, human rights remains a sensitive issue for the Duterte administration.

“Human rights violations in Mindanao continue to rise amidst the peace process,” said Barug Katungod Mindanao in a statement.

Extrajudicial killings of Lumad and other activists are being done “through the continued implementation of Oplan Bayanihan and in the guise of community peace and development program (COPD),” it also added.

In addition, some see Duterte’s pronouncements as just talk, with no actual policy changes being implemented. Despite his statement regarding putting a stop to the proliferation of paramilitary groups in the country, especially in Mindanao, no paramilitary group has been dismantled and disbanded.

Until and unless Duterte follows through his promises of change with concrete action and scrapping of government policies such as Oplan Bayanihan, the killings of the Lumad peoples of Mindanao will continue.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. The piece was first published by the Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies with the support of the European Union and Healing the Hurt project of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region. Mark Ambay III is Research and Information Officer of the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL). He is also associated with KATRIBU National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network of the Philippines. Read more of his work on his blog () and follow him on Facebook  and Twitter).]

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