WHEN all is said and done, the insistence of the military that it does not direct or coddle the paramilitary forces that were responsible for the massive displacement of indigenous peoples (IPs) and the grisly murders of lumad leaders in Mindanao could best be described as blatant lie and obfuscation. This brazen lie and denial have persisted more than one month after the audacious slaughters in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and months after the systematic and continuing harassment of lumad communities and killings perpetrated with impunity by military-backed armed groups.
Despite the army’s vehement denials, it is well known in the IP communities and the local governments in several Mindanao provinces – particularly in Regions 10 (Northern Mindanao), 11 (Davao), 12 (Soccsksargen) and 13 (Caraga) – that a number of dreaded civilian armed groups, like the notorious Magahat-Bagani (MB) and Alamara militias, are brainchildren of the military acting as a “force multiplier” for its counterinsurgency campaign. Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel likens the MB, for instance, to a military-created “monster” that the authorities “could no longer control.”
Monster or evil incarnate, indeed. For how do we call those who carried out the carnage in the early morning of September 1 in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga town in Surigao del Sur? About 200 residents from several sitios in Diatagon – including children and women as well as students and teachers staying in the dormitories of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) in nearby Sitio Han-ayan – were roused from their sleep and herded by the MB gunmen to a basketball court. There, to their horror, they were forced to watch the brutal execution of tribal leaders Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo for being allegedly New People’s Army (NPA) sympathizers. Among the terrified witnesses were Campos’ four children.
The MB gunmen also viciously killed Emerito Samarca, a popular educator and executive director of Alcadev inside a classroom in this school that caters to lumad students. His hands and feet were bound, his chest was shot, and his throat was slit from ear to ear. He, too, was branded by the MB as backing the Reds, while Alcadev is being accused as a “training ground” for NPA guerrillas. In fact, Alcadev has reaped many awards, including from the Department of Education itself, for its pioneering and successful literacy and livelihood programs – advocacies that are badly needed in the poor and remote lumad communities. Alcadev and other similar grassroots education institutions are constantly being harassed or threatened with takeover by military teachers or with closure, like the Fr. Tentorio Memorial School in Kitaotao, Bukidnon last Oct. 1.
While the Diatagon killings were going on, government soldiers were seen nearby, which further proves that they either actively support or at least tolerate the MB militia; thus, they should be charged as well with complicity to the triple murders.
The barbaric murders coupled with the warning of the MB gunmen that they will also kill the residents have triggered the mass evacuation of about 2,700 Manobo IPs to Tandag City, where they are staying at the provincial sports complex until now. Likewise, almost 700 lumads, mostly children and women, have fled to Davao City due to heavy military operations in their communities in Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and in San Fernando, Bukidnon. They are being sheltered in a Protestant-run facility since May, and still threatened like the failed attempt of security forces to evict them last July. Aside from the military campaigns that are endangering their life and interrupting their livelihood, the lumads also expressed fear from forced recruitment into paramilitary groups like the Alamara, which, like the MB, was also created by the military.
The seemingly all-out militarization and indiscriminate counterinsurgency campaign – both by the regular military and special police troops and their paramilitary minions, including the Magahat-Bagani and Alamara gunmen – have uprooted about 6,000 lumads in different parts of Mindanao, according to a recent report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
What happened in Lianga and still happening in many IP communities in Mindanao are reminiscent of the martial law and Cold War times, a supposedly bygone era, where constricted black and white worldview prevails – it’s either one is an ally or a foe, whether real or imagined. Thus, Red bogey or anticommunist hysteria was widely propagated by rightwing regimes, including the Marcos dictatorship, to justify the crushing of democracy and dissent as well as the hideous human rights violations, and while they emptied the nation’s coffers to enrich themselves.
Incidentally, many IP communities are rich with natural resources, including minerals and timber, which would drive mining and logging companies to salivate. In fact, Barangay Diatagon is part of the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley, which, aside from its rich agricultural lands, has been confirmed to contain vast amounts of gold and coal deposits prompting the government to tag Caraga (the region where Surigao del Sur belongs) as the country’s “mining capital.” By the way, all the murdered lumad leaders were known to be against the mining operations in their areas of big mining firms Nickel Asia and SR Metals whose owners are said to be financial backers of the Aquino administration’s presidential bet.
Granting for the sake of argument that some – although certainly not all – of the murdered lumad leaders (the three martyrs from Diatagon as well as in other places in Mindanao) were “communist” supporters, but still it does not warrant their torture and killings, especially since they were unmistakably civilians and clearly noncombatants. Remember that even the actual combatants are still protected by laws of war; how much more the unarmed and helpless civilians, and more so, the innocent ones?
The apparently scorched earth policy or tactics of the military and paramilitary forces are patently unjust and sweeping causing coldblooded tortures and killings, destruction of cherished community lives, padlocking of schools, ripping up of livelihoods, breaking down of indigenous unity in which IPs are pitted against each other, and the displacement of thousands.
The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa is one with the calls to disarm, disband and outlaw all paramilitary units. All their members – as well as their “handlers” in the military, police and the government – who were party to the murders, injury, harassment and displacements of lumads and to other crimes should be promptly brought to justice.
In particular, Executive Order (EO) No. 546 issued in 2006 by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which granted the legal bases for the creation and existence of abusive paramilitary groups and private armies, must immediately be repealed. This was promised by then presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III in 2010 but conveniently forgotten when he got elected.
Sentro also calls for the establishment of permanent and self-sustaining peace zones in the lumad or IP communities scattered in Mindanao as well as in other parts of Luzon and the Visayas. These “first Filipinos” must be given the tranquility, dignity and respect that they rightfully deserve. Thus, all armed groups both from the government and the rebel forces must do their “battles” significantly far from the IP and civilian communities.