President Aquino will likely face new troubles with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which has been demanding action from him on rights protection after local group Karapatan raised the issue on the killings of members of the Lumad tribe by paramilitary force to the UN body.
Karapatan sought the UNHRC intervention on the deaths of Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo, and Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development Inc (ALCADEV) school director Emerito Samarca.
A member of the oppressed Lumad tribe in Mindanao when asked what is with the ancestral lands of their in Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur that caused forced evacuations, division and killings said “bulawan” or gold in the Manobo dialect was the most probable reason.
An emotional Imelda Balandres, a woman leader from the community of Lumad evacuees, who witnessed the killing of Campos and Sinzo, last Sept. 1 told The Daily Tribune in an interview that the rich source of gold and other precious minerals are the root of all the violence inflicted on them as big mining companies target their ancestral lands.
Apparently, the two primary mining companies that are interested in the Lumad lands are owned by campaign financiers of no less than the ruling Liberal Party’s (LP) 2016 standard bearer, Mar Roxas.
Nickel Asia and SR Metals Incorporated (SRMI), owned by Salvador Zamora and Eric Gutierrez respectively, are, according to Lumads and previous reports, the ones that operate “big time” in the said area.
Both Zamora and Gutierrez are known to have contributed to the campaign funds during President Aquino’s 2010 presidential bid, as they are now associated with Roxas’ machinery.
The UNHRC was asked to investigate the killings and the evacuation of almost 3,000 Lumad in Surigao del Sur through letters sent to Dr. Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders; and Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on Rights of the Indigenous People’s.
“We are asking the UN HRC to investigate and recommend actions to the Philippine Government on these issues,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
Karapatan said on September 1, 2015, the Magahat/Bagani paramilitary forces under the 36th and 75th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army gunned down Campos in front of the whole community in Km. 16, Diatago, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
Sinzo, who was separated from the crowd, was tortured by hitting his arms and legs with wooden stick before he was shot.
Samarca, on the other hand, was found dead inside the classroom of ALCADEV with an ear-to-ear slit on the throat and gunshot wounds in the chest. “The 36th Infantry Battalion (IB), 74th IB and the Special Forces were at the periphery,” Palabay recounted the accounts of the witnesses.
“While the AFP can lie through their teeth about their involvement on the killings and all other atrocities of its paramilitary groups, the motives are crystal clear: eliminate those who are perceived as enemies of the state, including those who fight for their land and their rights,” Palabay said.
She added there was no way the government can deny its responsibility in the killings as long as it implements counter-insurgency programs like Oplan Bayanihan.
“The paramilitary groups is one way of tackling this dirty war against the Filipino people. It is no wonder why the AFP has not disbanded these groups—because they work together,” Palabay said.
The killing of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, the massacre of the Capion family, the murder of Datu Jimmy Liguyon, the Tabugol brothers, among others was done through the use of paramilitary forces who are known in many names—the Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), the Special Civilian Armed Auxilliary, the Investment Defense Force, Bagani Forces, Magahat-Bagani, Alde Salusad’s group, and the De la Mance group, to name a few.
In 2012, Heyns and then UN SR on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya had sounded the alarm on the role of the paramilitary groups in the killings, Karapatan said.
In the same year, during the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the Philippines there were already recommendations from member Nations to disband paramilitary groups that perpetuate serious abuses.
“The Aquino government has rejected this and even continued to multiply and allowed the proliferation of these groups as force multipliers. We reiterate our position that the political killings happening right now is part of the government’s policy and not simply an internal conflict among indigenous people’s as the government wants the public to believe,” Palabay said.
LP imprint all over
LP stalwart and Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice served as SRMI’s President when a plunder case was filed against the said firm that caused them P7 million in fines for over-extraction in 2007 as, it has been previously reported months back, subsidiary firms San R Mining and Galeo Equipment and Mining Corp. shipped nearly 2 million metric tons of nickel from August 2006 to September 2007 based on the records of the Philippine Ports Authority and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
Government is yet to prosecute SRMI for the massive shipment of minerals which reportedly totals to P28 billion.
Although SRMI’s alleged illegal activities occured in Agusan del Norte, Lumad leader Balandres said that “their (SRMI and Nickel Asia) power to organize private armies or paramilitary groups backed by the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) for mining purposes is among the top reasons why they’re too interested in stealing our lands (in Surigao).”
If not for mining interests, violence and fear would never exist at all in the Lumad community, Balandres said.
According to rights group Karapatan, mining companies with armed men that connive with the state forces is “not new”.
“Employing guns and goons for gold is obviously not new. Mining companies are rich and powerful as they can bribe their way out to getting what they want,” Karapatan’s Palabay said.
Gutierrez, too, is tagged as the one who provided the helicopter for aerial photos of the so-called ‘Hacienda Binay’ that is now apparently a debunked stunt to sensationalize the Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee troika’s hearings against Vice President Jejomar Binay as the first allegations filed against the VP was not taken popularly.
VP Binay is ahead the LP’s frontrunner Roxas in independent and reputed surveys contrary to the one released by administration attack dog Erice which, in the first place, is shamelessly “LP-commissioned”.
Meanwhile, despite President Aquino’s denials of targeting Lumads with military offensives earlier this week in a press forum hosted by a national daily, militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) says that the regime’s counter-insurgency program “sugar-coated in the guise of peace and development” is aimed at “terrorizing” Lumads.
In a document obtained by Bayan from a government agency, it is admitted by the government that 74 per cent of the membership of communist New People’s Army (NPA) are indigenous peoples and that 90 percent of insurgent operated and controlled areas are within the ancestral domain of the Lumads.
The said document states that IP communities need apparent investments, which can be hypocritically referred to as relative to mining.
The Powerpoint presentation called “Whole of Nation Initiative” spells out the target groups and priority regions for government’s counter-insurgency program. Various government agencies are being tapped to undertake “serbisyo caravans” to compliment “focused military operations” in these target areas.
The slogans used in the said document are synonymous with President Aquino’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan’s lines such as “whole of nation” and “people centered” approach.
“Those insisting that the IPs are merely “caught in the crossfire” should re-examine their position because as far as the AFP and other civilian agencies are concerned, the IPs and their communities and schools are the real targets,” notes Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes.
Human rights groups in Caraga have reported, according to Reyes, that on August 25, simultaneous “peace/serbisyo caravans” were launched in Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte (consistent with the proposed timeline in the PowerPoint presentation).
“Based on the accounts, the caravans were initiated by the AFP’s and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and included agencies such as the Department of Health, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and the Department of Education,” Reyes elaborated.
Reportedly too, there were programs and public meetings in Surigao del Sur towns Marihatag and Lianga. The program included presentations to the public of NPA rebel returnees.
A week after the “peace caravans” were held, together with Campos and Sinzo, Emerito Samarca, 54, School Director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) in Lianga town, were killed on the same day.
Alleged perpetrators are paramilitary groups Magahat and Bagani that are linked with the AFP.
“That the President refuses to acknowledge that this policy exists means that there will be no meaningful action or resolution that can be expected from this administration,” Reyes said.
Due to the cases of forced mass evacuations, nine Lumad community-based schools were forced to shut down.
Church condemns killings
The Catholic hierarchy joined in the chorus of condemnation against the killings of Lumads in Mindanao and criticized the government’s response to the issue.
In homily, CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas said it is “disturbing” how the government quickly exonerated those allegedly behind the killings.
“This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and justice,” Villegas said.
According to him, such declarations inspire credence only after a reliable and trustworthy investigation by impartial and competent persons shall have taken place.
“If made before any such investigation, they disturbingly suggest a refusal to hold accountable those to whom the administration so eagerly extends its mantle of protection,” he said.
President Aquino in a forum on Wednesday said the government has “no campaign to kill anybody”, as he defends the military’s alleged involvement in the killings.
The much-awaited statement from Aquino, however, dismayed various human rights groups, saying his response was inadequate.
The bishops are also backing calls for the government to urgently investigate the killings of three Lumad leaders by alleged paramilitary forces in Surigao del Sur.
“The CBCP asks the government for an honest, thorough, impartial, and speedy investigation so that the guilty may be held to account for their wrong-doing,” Villegas said.
The CBCP chief also said the use of militia groups for the government’s counter-insurgency campaign is already “troubling.”
“If militia groups cannot fit within a structure of clear authority and command by legitimate state authority, they should not be tolerated, much less employed as mercenaries by the State,” he added.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) earlier said the Lumad communities are under attack because of their determination to protect their ancestral lands.
Sr. Francis Añover, RMP coordinator, said the Lumad people continue to be victims of massive land grabbing and displacement because of large-scale mining operations and the expansion of huge plantations.
“The Philippine Army and its para-military groups commit grave human rights abuses as clearing up operations for the entry of big foreign and local corporations,” Añover said.
The bishops said indigenous peoples are already disadvantaged in a number of ways and the government’s failure to protect their rights “only underscores their plight as marginalized.”
“This cannot be just. This cannot be the will of God,” Villegas said.