Category Archives: statement

Sentro urges China to free Chinese labor activists

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LI JIANGUO
Chairman
All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU)
10 Fuxingmenwai St., Beijing, PROC
info@acftu.org.cn

Dear Mr. Li:

The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) – Center of United and Progressive Workers (Center) – is a national labor center in the Philippines which is comprised of trade unions and other workers’ organizations in the private, public, informal and migrant sectors. It is also a member of the country’s largest labor coalition called Nagkaisa (United).

We were informed by our colleagues in the international trade union movement of the ongoing Chinese government’s crackdown on independent labor rights NGOs and activists in Guangdong province, a major manufacturing hub in southern China, since early December last year. We learned that more than 20 staff and volunteers from at least four organizations – Panyu Migrant Workers Service Center, Laborer Mutual Aid Group, Foshan Nanfeiyan Social Work Services Organization and Haige Workers Center – were apprehended by the authorities, and about seven of them have reportedly remained in police custody: Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei, Tang Jian, Meng Han, Peng Jiayong, He Xiaobo, Deng Xiaoming.

Sentro is aware of the Chinese government’s allegations against these workers’ advocates which range from the anticipated but arbitrary charge of “disturbance of social order” to the dubious “embezzlement.” However, what they are doing is not at all “seditious” or “illegal” – helping uplift the terms and conditions of the workers in Guangdong, which should have even been supported by the government in the first place, especially because promoting and protecting workers’ rights are enshrined in the Chinese Constitution.

We respectfully urge ACFTU, as China’s officially recognized workers’ organization as well as for being a titular member of the ILO’s Workers Group, to defend the ILO basic labor rights to freedom of association or right to organize and to collective bargaining (Convention Nos. 87 and 98) by imploring the Chinese government to: (1) promptly release all the detained labor activists; (2) stop the clampdown against labor activists and organizations and other related civil society groups; and (3) respect and protect the fundamental rights of all Chinese workers.

Sincerely,

 

FRANK MERO
Chairperson

 

JOSUA MATA
Secretary General

Sentro calls anew the South Korea government to end the clampdown against trade unions

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14 December 2015

HER EXCELLENCY PARK GEUN-HYE
President
Republic of Korea
Blue House
Seoul, South Korea
president@president.go.kr.

Thru: HIS EXCELLENCY KIM JAE-SHIN
Ambassador
Embassy of the Republic of Korea
Taguig City, Philippines

Dear Madam President:

This is the second letter we are sending you in a span of a few days only – the first was on December 9, when we expressed our utmost concern and displeasure over your government’s sweeping and unwarranted crackdown on South Korea’s organized workers led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).

We emphasized in our first letter that Sentro – a major national labor center here in the Philippines – is one with the KCTU and the international labor movement in strongly calling for your government to withdraw the proposed labor law “reforms,” end the clampdown against the KCTU and other trade unions, cancel both the existing and planned repressive regulations that suppress human, labor and trade union rights and civil liberties, free all the incarcerated trade unionists and activists, especially those thrown into prisons because of the current crackdown, drop all the charges against them, and fully restore all the democratic rights that were trampled upon since the start of the offensive versus the Korean workers and their supporters.

And now Sentro, along with the labor and social movements throughout the world, would like to convey our most vehement condemnation of the arrest and imprisonment of Bro. Han Sang-gyun, KCTU president. To spare the Jogye monks of “great inconvenience and difficulty” and the desecration of their temple in Seoul – brought about by the siege and eventual forced entry of hundreds of police troopers to nab Bro. Han Sang-gyun, who sought refuge there – he turned himself in to the raiders on December 9, after a 24-day standoff. We are aghast at the brazenness and overkill of your government and security forces in forcefully nabbing Bro. Han Sang-gyun whose only “crime” was standing up for the inalienable and legitimate rights of the workers. His was a peaceful and legal advocacy; he was not an armed and dangerous criminal or terrorist. We are likewise outraged by the police assault as a blatant disrespect for the sacred grounds of the Jogye temple.

We respectfully but firmly urge you, Madam President, to please release from jail Bro. Han Sang-gyun as well as other imprisoned trade unionists and activists as a sign of goodwill and openness to genuinely resolve the brewing conflict there as soon as possible. The world is intently watching you and it will see you in a positive light if your administration will treat the workers and citizens fairly and squarely, and if you will not return the country to the road of either civilian authoritarianism or military dictatorship.

Sincerely,

FRANK MERO
Chairperson

JOSUA MATA
Secretary General

Sentro asks South Korea government to end clampdown against trade unions

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HER EXCELLENCY PARK GEUN-HYE
President
Republic of Korea
Blue House
Seoul, South Korea
president@president.go.kr.

Thru: HIS EXCELLENCY KIM JAE-SHIN
Ambassador
Embassy of the Republic of Korea
Taguig City, Philippines

Dear Madam President:

The undersigned represent the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) or Center of United and Progressive Workers, a national labor center here in the Philippines comprising of trade unions and other workers’ organizations in the private, public, informal and migrant sectors. Sentro also belongs to the country’s biggest labor coalition called Nagkaisa (United), which likewise fervently advocates for labor and trade union rights, democratic freedoms and solidarity with workers throughout the world.

We were informed by our colleagues in the international labor movement as well as from the Korean trade unions themselves of the escalating crackdown of your government against the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), its affiliate organizations and other organized workers in South Korea. We are deeply concerned of the series of police raids on union offices and the sweeping arrests and detention of union leaders. We are particularly appalled by the attempts to forcefully seize Bro. Han Sang-gyun, KCTU president, who is now holed up in a temple in central Seoul. We are both shocked and disgusted by the arbitrary and illegal moves of the government and its security forces to ban even peaceful assemblies or protest actions; and in branding the protesters as like the ISIL, which is both a dangerous and silly accusation, and in trying to prohibit through legislation the covering of one’s face during demonstrations, which is patently ridiculous.

We are very much aware that these indiscriminate and draconian measures are clearly stubborn efforts by the government to stop at all costs the growing opposition of the Korean workers and trade unions against the proposed labor law “reforms” – which would slash compensations of senior workers, hasten the employers’ ability to terminate workers, increase the number of temporary agency workers in sectors that they are currently not allowed, further weaken protections for subcontractual workers, and restrict the union’s right to check the employers’ power to implement workplace rules that are harmful to the workers’ interests. Moreover, we are mindful of the fact that South Korea ranks lower in labor protection among the majority of OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) rich member countries – contrary to the government’s fallacious claim that the country’s labor protection laws and policies are “too high” and hinder “job creation,” and which supposedly prompted the proposed labor law amendments.

Sentro strongly denounces the heavy-handed attempts of the government and its security forces to prevent the Korean workers and citizens from freely expressing their lawful and inalienable rights to peaceably assemble and to air their grievances and aspirations. The massive mobilization of workers and citizens last November 14 was a resounding manifestation of their rejection of the socioeconomic and labor agenda of the government; thus, its dogged attempts to ban the succeeding December 5 mass actions were a desperate bid to thwart the mounting challenge to its authority. Sentro is doubly alarmed by the increasing authoritarian tendencies of the President, which are disturbingly reminiscent of the military dictatorship of your late father, President Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea from 1961 until 1979.

Sentro echoes the calls to withdraw the proposed labor law “reforms,” end the clampdown against the KCTU and other trade unions, cancel all the repressive regulations that suppress human, labor and trade union rights and civil liberties, free all the incarcerated trade unionists and activists, revoke the arrest orders against Bro. Han Sang-gyun and others, drop all the charges against them, and fully restore all the democratic rights that were trampled upon since the start of the campaign versus the Korean unions.

Sincerely,

FRANK MERO
Chairperson

JOSUA MATA
Secretary General

Solidarity Message to Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers Unions – KPTU

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New police raids, more arrests – stop the Korean government’s attacks on trade union rights!

SANGSU JO, president
AREAN KIM, general secretary
Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers Unions (KPTU)

Dear Bro. Sangsu Jo and Sis. Arean Kim:

We were informed by our co-trade unionists from the IUF that KPTU as well as several other unions, including the KCTU itself, are being subjected to a series of repressions by the Korean government. In particular, we learned that only this month the KPTU offices have been raided twice, on Nov. 6 and 21. In a display of heavy-handedness, about 200 police took part in the first raid alone. Several KPTU members, particularly from its affiliate cargo truckers (KPTU-Truck Sol), have also been arrested.

These raids and arrests are clearly attempts by the government to suppress the ongoing strike of KPTU-Truck Sol members and their “high-altitude protests” (atop a billboard). Likewise, the current crackdowns against the KCTU and other Korean trade unions are due to the massive National Workers Rally and People’s Mass Mobilization last Nov. 14 and a desperate bid to stop its relaunching in December, which will culminate in a general strike to reiterate the Korean workers’ opposition to the neoliberal and regressive “labor reform” agenda of the Park Geun-hye regime.

The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa or Sentro (Center of United and Progressive Workers) – a national labor center in the Philippines composed of trade unions and other workers’ organizations in the private, public, informal and migrant sectors – expresses its indignation over these patently unjust and illegal actions of the South Korean government, which are shameless attempts to further advance at all costs the neoliberal and big corporate interests.

Sentro and all its affiliate organizations assure the KPTU, the KCTU and the Korean labor movement of our continuing support and solidarity to your – our –struggles.

Long live the KPTU!
Long live the KCTU!
Carry on the workers’ struggle!

UNITY STATEMENT OF THE PEOPLES’ FORUM ON APEC 2015

Quezon City, Philippines – The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) project is both a defensive reaction to the deepening crisis of the world capitalist system and an effort to stabilize itself through a heightened market-driven regime. This was triggered by the 2008-2009 global economic meltdown that started in the US and spread throughout the global economic system. Led by the US and its major regional allies, Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Australia, the aim is to maintain and strengthen the dominance of major industrial market-based powers by expanding access to wider regional markets in order to maximize profits for their respective ruling classes and their home-based corporations.

APEC’s neoliberal thrusts are to intensify and expand state-sanctioned free-trade-oriented policies, finance-deregulation rules, privatization of essential services, labor contractualization, and the new scheme of public-private partnerships – all in line with the ongoing trend of corporate-led globalization. These are the core principles for which APEC stands for.

This US-led agenda for recovery and rebalancing is a triple-edged economic-political-military spearhead across the Asia Pacific region. Through the so-called ‘US Pivot’, Washington is amplifying its strategic shift towards the broader Asian sphere to exploit the area’s huge market potentials and its rich resources. At the same time, however, this leads the major industrial powers into direct economic competition and political rivalry with each other.

The theme formulated by the Philippine government for APEC 2015 is “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World”. The Peoples’ Forum on APEC (PFA 2015), on the other hand, a broad coalition of civil society organizations and people’s movements, contends that such a theme is deceptive and is anchored on false promises.

The fact remains that, 26 years after APEC was conceived, little has changed across the Asia-Pacific region in terms of fundamental social structures. Despite high growth rates, social inequalities and vulnerabilities among the regions’ poor populations, especially in less developed societies, remain hallmarks of neoliberalism’s impact upon this vast territory.

Through the trade-finance mechanisms advanced by the likes of APEC, many significant social and economic gains have either been set aside or lost altogether. Major political advances won over the past by progressive mass movements, especially the international Left-led working class, have now officially been declared as irrelevant and labelled as potential threats to the universal growth and well-being of capitalist societies. Within this context, the APEC agenda has only managed to inflict immense socio-economic-political-ecological damage to the Asia-Pacific region’s societies, its peoples and the environment.

The crisis confronting the capitalist world reflects the irrationality of maintaining overcapacity and overproduction with shrinking markets. Deepening wealth and income inequalities have prevented the majority of working peoples from purchasing the goods produced by the system. To crawl out from this inherent contradiction, the US and its other imperialist cohorts are now endeavouring to create yet another regional market-oriented mechanism while angling to out-balance America’s top regional rival, China.

With APEC as a platform, Washington is aggressively pursuing its latest anti-stagnation concoction known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement as a new regional neoliberal project but excluding China. This is in line with Washington’s plan to strategically fuse and realign its so-called ‘Pivot to Asia’ foreign policy direction around a more deliberate economic framework. The strategy is to form an “arc of denial” to contain China’s ambitions of expanding its influence beyond its borders and providing an alternative to US and Western hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region.

The US remains the world’s primary super power. It is able to maintain the world balance to its advantage largely because of its combined capacities in the economic, political, military, socio-cultural, and technological aspects. Due to this distinct advantage, it is, for the moment, able to offset the countervailing forces represented by China and Russia.

PFA 2015 has identified seven areas where crucial spheres of Asia-Pacific peoples’ lives are adversely affected. These are the following:

1. Trade and Investments:

· APEC’s trade and investment agenda is about supporting and consolidating the corporate agenda and is represented by a broad range of trade/investment-related free trade area (FTA) initiatives such as the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), and the FTAAP (Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific);

· These new generation FTAs go far beyond trade and constitute broader economic agreements that cover trade, investments, intellectual property rights, and regulatory coherence. Corporations are granted enormous powers to challenge and sue governments on public policies that regulate investments in order to promote and pursue certain social, environmental, health, and labor policies but which are deemed detrimental to corporate profits.

2. Fiscal Justice and Trade:

· There is a growing trend of “international investment rule-making” with nominally sovereign states surrendering their say over economic and trade issues to external arbitration. This goes hand in hand with developed countries increasingly forging “mega-regional agreements”

· The effects would be: (a) reduced state revenues due to the elimination of import and export taxes; (b) the erosion of national sovereignty and fiscal autonomy with states forced to seek international arbitration procedures linked to investor-initiated legal cases; and, (c) increase in government indebtedness to compensate for trade liberalization-related revenue losses.

3. Social Impacts and Dimensions on Development:

· The social crisis is worsened as the corporate-driven approach removes safeguards for the people and the environment;

· Workers, farmers, women, and consumers are marginalized and become mere shock-absorbers of economic structural adjustment programs;

· Labor is “casualized” while the urban and rural poor are forcibly evicted from their communities to make way for elite projects (e.g. special economic zones, property development, and resorts) which benefit only a few.

4. Food and Agriculture:

· Trade liberalization greatly affects indigenous-based subsistence agriculture by bankrupting small-scale indigenous farmers who are forced to produce high-input crops, as opposed to indigenous/organic crops;

· State support is drastically reduced in favor of privatization, domestic production is endangered, and landlessness worsens.

· Control by domestic and transnational corporations is expanded over food production, trade and distribution through public-private partnership arrangements, adoption of IPR on plant and agriculture investment incentives.

· Food and environmental safety are compromised with the commercialization of GMO crops.

· Increased exploitation of agriculture and natural resources including marine resources in favor of big agribusiness companies to the detriment of small farmers, municipal fishers and IPs dependent on these for their subsistence.

5. Climate, Renewable Energy and Environmental Justice:

· APEC 2015 is being held just two weeks before the 21st Paris Conference of Parties (COP21) December. Since the APEC includes countries that are the top Annex-1 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emitters, the US being the world’s leading historical emitter, we need to see what their national responses during the APEC Summit;

· While the US and China are now both publicly committed to a reduction of their dirty energy-use, Southeast Asia is instead moving towards more dirty energy projects. The contradiction for the latter is that Southeast Asia remains one of the most vulnerable regions of the world in terms of food security and climate change disasters.

6. Democracy and Human Rights:

· Human rights does not figure in APEC’s scope of over forty (40) areas of concern. This glaringly major gap simply reflects the reality of a “Corporate Capture of States”;

· UN principles and resolutions have outlined the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the urgent need for an“Elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights”.

· A “human rights respect-redress clause” must be embedded in all trade and investment agreements, including a mandatory Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) in extractive industries.

7. Regional Peace and Security:

· Even as APEC’s official scope of focus is on economic and trade-related matters, a major issue of concern is the question of regional peace and security;

· The US ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy is aimed at directly countering China’s own expansionist plans and securing its own market access;

· The US is now aggressively expanding its military presence across and beyond the APEC region and continues to strengthen and enhance its regional security alliances with Japan, Australia and the Philippines through interoperability joint military exercises;

· These moves confirm that powerful countries are securing their own national economic interests by pursuing militarist options instead of exploring other ways of peaceful regional cooperation.

Asian peoples and their mass movements need to confront the corporate-led agenda and the continuing elite-capture of the economic policies and practices underpinning multilateral trade/investment agreements, such as the APEC. The response, therefore, is to form a broad global front of progressive peoples’ movements that would expose the disastrous effects of capitalist neoliberal strategies and challenge them at every opportunity. In many countries ravaged by policies and programs engendered by these strategies, mass movements have confronted their respective governments and international institutions and struggled for a reversal of the neoliberal agenda.

This is graphically illustrated by the “Battle of Seattle”, the “Occupy Movement”, global gatherings such as the annual “World Social Forum”, the peasant-based “Via Campesina”, parallel civil society forums at meetings of multilateral financial institutions (i.e. the WB, IMF, ADB, etc.) and regional free trade groups (ASEAN, APEC, etc.), among others. At the national level, we salute the gains of national movements in thwarting inroads of neo-liberal globalization – agrarian movements installing poor peasants in their lands, anti-mining movements, food sovereignty movements against privatization, etc.

On the electoral front, palpable is the capture of state power by leftwing socialist parties in most of Latin America and in Greece, and the ascendancy of radical left parties and leaders in Spain and the UK. In Asia, left parties have governed in Nepal, Timor Leste and in some Indian states while the recent landslide electoral victory of the NLD in Burma bodes well for democracy movements. Among scholars, academics and students, there is a growing trend of unorthodox approaches to economic theories and practices that reject the neoliberal approach. People-to-people networks across countries and regions have also been established on issues such as workers’ control, human rights, climate justice, women’s rights, LGBT concerns, peasant and indigenous peoples’ rights, and alternative education.

Such challenges to neoliberalism and corporate-led globalization need to be expanded and sustained. The crying need is to build, consolidate and strengthen broad platforms of resistance against the global economic paradigm that is being foisted on Asian societies and their peoples. The neoliberal capitalist system is not working; it needs to be overhauled and replaced with a humane and radical alternative. Let our voices be heard and our actions be decisive!

Women march against poverty is a march for human dignity

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Women group march in Mendiola, Manila / Photo by Borgie Ceniza Balinton

Fourth International Action
STATEMENT INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ERADICATION OF POVERTY
World March of Women-Pilipinas

Our march against poverty is a march for human dignity. It is our right to live a life where choices are not clipped by the meagreness of resources available for us, our future not chained to injustices that deprive us the means to live, our roles not imposed by an economic system that value profit over rights.

Poverty is the outcome of systemic abuse brought upon us by greed – corporations excavating mountains, exploiting the lands, uprooting trees, cementing coasts, keeping wages at their lowest, profiting from social services, and at the cost of poisoned communities, displaced farmers and fishers, enslaved workers, prostituted women and children. Greed finds good company in guns and the militarization it represents to ensure that the corporations and elites are protected. Guns come with goons and the patriarchal set-up it represents to keep women silent and subservient to this system.

But we, women, can never be silenced. The World March of Women-Pilipinas refuses to be clipped, chained, and devalued by this system of greed, guns, and goons. Women know the enemies and we shall hold them accountable for bringing more than half of our country into poverty. We seek justice for the poorest families earning barely a tenth of what the richest families earned. We demand response to the declining employment of women, with one-third of employed women working as unskilled workers, mostly in wholesale and retail trade, agriculture and manufacturing, or forced to leave their homeland. Women work in conditions that are highly informal and vulnerable, with tenuous contracts, low pay or earnings, and little social protection.

Landless peasant families earn 148 pesos on the average in foreign-owned agricultural plantations, with women farmworkers earning 15 peso less. All these unjust conditions push women to work as migrants, where often we are treated just the same, with little protection and dignity.

Women know the enemies intend to blind us, passing as laws like the Mining Act but operating like thieves in broad daylight. No gold can blind us to see that mining does not give jobs, does not contribute to the economy, and can never be responsible enough to safeguard the environment and the community. For the past years, mining contributed to less than 2% to the GDP, employing less than 0.4% of labor force.

Mining violates half of our protected areas and two-thirds of the ancestral domains of our indigenous communities across the country. Poverty rates are evidently high in host-communities of mining, with their leaders and rights defenders being terrorized and killed by hired militias. These private armed groups often have the blessing of the state and political clans, in the name of protecting investments. The state should be held responsible for the human rights violations committed by the militias in the mining communities. The political clans and their dynasties should be dumped this coming elections, along with the weight of the rocks and soil that can never be made fertile again due to mining.

Women shall claim back the lands and waters grabbed by these corporations and we shall cultivate and nurture them to address food security instead of profit. Mining and other forms of resource extraction is just one category in land grabs, there are countless others disguising as development interventions. National and local elites have capitalized on programs like ecotourism, industrial agriculture and biofuels, residential and commercial use, to pass off land grabs as legitimate act. Even disaster-affected areas are not spared. Fishing communities were forced to leave coastal areas declared as no build zones due to anticipated effects of disaster, only to find out later that these were being sold to corporations for resorts and commercial use. Meantime, the farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples who dare fight for their lands and territories are treated as law offenders. Their acts criminalized, their rights taken for granted.

On this International Day of Eradication of Poverty, the World March of Women-Pilipinas calls on the eradication of corporate mining, land grabbing, the prostitution of women and children, labor rights violations, and state terrorism as drivers of poverty.

The women’s march against poverty is a march for human dignity. Our dignity lies in securing the rights of peoples to land, water, and territories as sources of their subsistence for the present and future generations. Our dignity lies in equal opportunities for men and women to participate in and benefit from development that does not exploit the environment nor oppress communities. It is with dignity that we shall overcome poverty on our own terms.

October 17, 2015

World March of Women-Pilipinas • Alyansa Tigil Mina • Bagong Kamalayan Collective, Inc. •
Buklod ng Kababaihan sa Olongapo • Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) •
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) • Focus on the Global South •
Freedom from Debt Coalition • KAISA KA • Katutubong Lilak (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights) • WomanHealth Philippines • Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB) • Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan • PhilWomen on the ASEAN • Sarilaya • Sentro ng mga Nakakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) • SENTRO Youth • Transform Asia • True Colors Coalition • Youth and Students Advancing Gender Equality (YSAGE)

Military still denying its obvious hand in lumad killings and displacement; gov’t turning a blind eye

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Lumads in the colorful Kaamulan Festival / Wikipedia photo

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.