Even as peace talks poised to resume, attacks on legal activists heighten

(First of five parts)

amelia pond  Even as National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants Wilma and Benito Tiamzon finally walked out of detention from Camp Crame today, reports from regions indicate that state security agencies are stepping up attacks against legal activists.

The Rural Missionaries of thePhilippines reported the arrest today (August 19), around noon, of 64-year old Amelia pond, the order’s regional coordinator for Southern Mindanao.

Pond is also the research and documentation officer for the Salugpungan School Network in Mindanao, which remain the only available opportunities for education of indigenous children.

The attack happened as peace panels of the government and the NDF were preparing for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

Read: Tears, hugs as NDF consultants walk free

Pond was accosted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) criminal instigation and detection group (CIDG) after a three day RMP assembly at the Living the Gospel Renewal Center on Archbishop Reyes Avenue, in Cebu City’s Lahug district.

Her arrest came as activists and peace advocates were hailing the release of the Tiamzon couple, which brought the number of freed National Democratic Front (NDF) political prisoners to 17.



Wilma Tiamzon (left) and husband, Benito (right) talk to supporters and peace advocates following their release from detention. They are flying  with 12 other consultants to join the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel in Oslo, Norway, where peace talks are set to resume on August 22. Photo by Obet de Castro

“They will join 15 others so far released in peace talks in Oslo on August 22 and for consultations with the NDF Negotiating Panel,” lawyer Edre Olalia said. Two of the released consultants are not joining the Oslo talks as they need urgent medical care, NDF sources said.

Planted evidence?

The RMP report said Pond was in a taxi with three other people when CIDG cops blocked them. They forced her out of the vehicle.

“The female CIDG held her by the arm and asked her with different names but she denied. This was followed by more questions showed photographs, and a supposed warrant of arrest, but they did not make her read the warrant,” the report said.

“One of Amy’s companion insisted that she should read the warrant for her to know what her case is but despite Amy and her companion’s insistence they failed to let Amy read the warrant. Amy vehemently resisted this illegal arrest.”

The witnesses said one of the CIDG men went near Amy and inserted two ID’s in her bag.

“Then they asked her to alight the car. She refused to go with them but they forced her. In this instance, Sr. Francis Anover and Sr. Marisol Garduno who were also in the center immediately went to her rescue.”

Pond was brought to Camp Sotero in Cebu City. and charged with double murder and frustrated murder in Compostela Valley under the name of Adelfa Toledo.

Increasing attacks

pajallaBefore Pond’s arrest, Quezon province cops nabbed a peasant leader identified with the military party-list group, Anakpawis.

Karapatan-Quezon spokesperson Alex Pacalda told Bulatlat.com that the arrest of Antonio Pajalla was illegal as, “the rebellion charge against him was long extinguished when he was granted amnesty under former President Fidel Ramos.”

Bulatlat quoted Pacalda as saying the peasant leader held with him his copy of the certificate from the National Amnesty Commission when he was arrested at around 9 a.m. Aug. 12. He was on a jeepney en route to the Anakpawis Partylist’s office in Catanauan town.

The rebellion charge against Pajalla, which is the ground for his arrest, was first filed in 1995. But Pajalla was granted amnesty by President Ramos in 1997, said Pacalda.

Karapatan and other rights groups  have warned that the continuing presence of paramilitary troops — trained and supervised by the military — represents a major threat to the peace process.

“We must watch out for saboteurs,” said Catholic Bishop (Caloocan City)  Deogracias Yñiguez on the eve of the Tiamzons’ release. He said church workers and civil society and people’s organizations must remain vigilant on human rights violations and other abuses, which could wreak havoc on the peace process.

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Yñiguez said, worked hard with other groups “to find many ways to ensure that the crucial peace process resumes.”

Lumad victims

Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo confirmed that paramilitary troops strafed a lumad community on July 30 during holding a wedding in  San Fernando, Bukidnon, killing a pregnant woman and wounding seven other people, including five children.

Maytas Gauyran, chieftain of the Tigwahanon tribe, grieves at the coffin of his daughter, Marikit Gayoran, who was pregnant when shot dead during a community wedding. Photo courtesy of Kilab multimedia

A DSWD report said  a paramilitary group associated with the 8th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army. Taguiwalo said all victims beneficiaries of the DSWD’s 4Ps and Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT).

Taguiwalo also ordered an investigation into the provision of projects for suspected mastermind ‘Alde Salusad’ or ‘Butsoy’ despite a warrant of arrest for a previous killing of a lumad datu, Jimmy Liguyon, in front of his small children.




Vulnerable communities

The Save Our Schools  (SOS) network said attacks on indigenous schools in Mindanao have increased following then assumption of Duterte. The tough talking leader has close links to restive indigenous groups fighting against the entry of big mining firms and plantations into their ancestral lands.

In the areas around Duterte’s home city of Davao, teachers were forced to close down some schools because of death threats, according to SOS executive director Rius Valle.

He said paramilitary forces trained and supervised by military officials were hunting the teachers in the Pacquibato district of Davao City.

“They documented attempts to kill them,” Valle said in an interview.”The two teachers had to close down the school and seek sanctuary in Davao City.”

After the Paquibato incident, which happened just before Duterte’s  first State of the Nation Address (Sona), paramilitary troops also killed the leader of a parents’ association in a lumad school on the outskirts of Davao City. The community in the area have a long running feud with religious leader Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a known supporter and friend of Duterte.

lumad444On August 13, six men, riding in tandem on three motorcycles, also strafed a group of lumad in Barangay Zillovia, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur. A woman, shot in the chest, had to be placed under intensive care.

The victims are indigenous claimants to land now covered by an forestry agreement granted to  Provident Tree Farms, INc.
The RMP said the incident is connected to an earlier series of attacks, including the murder of  Datu Mansulbadan, the former supreme datu of the Manobo community in the area.

Four other Manobo — including a 13-year old boy — who were the apparent target of the gunmen suffered less serious injuries. The attack also prompted an evacuation of residents.


#HindiManhid: Bring Them Home mission for stranded OFWs in Saudi

“Our kababayans are in serious crisis because their employers did not pay their salaries. They are also confronted by many difficulties caused by the expiry of their end-of-services benefits. Many were not given exit visas after they completed their contracts, and are being delayed for repatriation.”
Photo from abs-cbnnews.com
More than 11,000 stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) in Saudi Arabia are the subjects of an urgent government mission to bring them home by September 10, according to Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.
Taguiwalo detailed her department’s participation in the multi-agency mission headed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III as the latter announced a giant step in efforts to ease the crisis of 11,000 workers affected by setbacks in the Middle East country’s oil industry, the backbone of its economy.
Bello said the Saudi monarch has instructed the Ministry of Labor to waive immigration penalties for workers with expired working visas. The King has also directed Kingdom officials to provide food aid and start processing the money claims of the workers.
Taguiwalo said “Operation Bring Them Home” also aims to document situations of undocumented OFWs in crisis like women and children,  facilitate provision of appropriate services and referral to their respective regions for the needed services. The DSWD is earmarking P50 million to help the OFWs in crisis.
The labor secretary said the King has offered workers options: plane fare for those who want to return to the Philippines and re-employment aid for those willing to transfer to other firms.
Labor Secretary Silvestro III and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo
Taguiwalo said the DSWD would provide psychosocial interventions like counseling and debriefing, help distressed OFWs in reintegration with families and communities and provide after-care and other material services.
The Foreign Affairs and Health departments are also part of the mission ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Many Filipino workers have said they are willing to stay on and be absorbed in other industries to going home and facing unemployment. But complex legal requirements and unhelpful employers have made for a difficult process.
While Saudi Arabia has some of the most onerous labor policies in the Middle East, the government of President Duterte has managed to wrest concessions from the Kindgom, in contrast to the performance of former president Benigno Aquino III’s administration.
The Saudi labor ministry has confirmed the King’s instructions “to guarantee and protect the rights of foreign workers,” according to Bello.
Taguiwalo appointed DSWD Undersecretary Vilma B. Cabrera, Assistant Secretary Hope V. Hervilla, Social Welfare officers Perlita V. Panganiban, Mely S. Pangilinan, Teresita L. Valentino, Victoria N. NAvida, Marygrail B. Dong-as, Franco V. Lopez, Bienvenido V. Barbosa and Ali B. Namia to the mission
Urgent queries from OFWS in crisis. Photo by abs-cbnnews
The affected OFWs were  previously employed by three multinational companies: Bin Laden, Saudi Oger, and Mohammad  Al Mojil, as well as by six (6) sub-contracting companies.
“Our kababayans are in serious crisis because their employers did not pay their salaries. They are also confronted by many difficulties caused by the expiry of their end-of-services benefits. Many were not given exit visas after they completed their contracts, and are being delayed for repatriation,” she explained.
The focus of the mission is the stranded OFWs in three major KSA cities, namely Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam/Al-Khobar.
“This is not the first time that Filipinos working overseas such as in the KSA have experienced severe crisis because of questionable labor policies imposed by their employers and because of the neglect of their contracting agencies,” Taguiwalo said.
“The DSWD sees it important to take part in this humanitarian mission so we can gauge the impact of such policies on the lives and welfare of our OFWs. We hope to come up with findings that can help guide us in the future when it comes to the implementation of the country’s export labor policy,” she stressed.
“As the government agency that’s primarily tasked to look after the welfare of Filipinos, the DSWD wants to also provide assistance to our OFWs the same way we also aim to help their families here at home when it comes to their emergency  needs,” Taguiwalo said.

Hitler… Holocaust lines? DO YOU REMEMBER THEM, MR. PRESIDENT?

Dear President Aquino,
I oppose the candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte because of his views — and actions — that are inimical to human rights. I oppose the candidacy of the dictator’s son, who still pines for the bloody paradise of his father.

“If you allow them to oppress your fellow man and you do not speak up, you will be the next one to be oppressed.”

Aquino repeated the famous quotes of Martin Niemoller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken critic of Hitler and spent the last years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

“First they came for the communists, but I did not speak out because I was not a communist… finally they came for me and there was no one left to speak up for me.”

Let me jog your memory, Mr. President. What did your government do while soldiers and para-military forces hounded Lumad to death in Mindanao?

When the Lumad sought sanctuary in Davao, your Liberal Party colleague tried to force their “rescue”.
‘Saving the Lumad’ Cops summoned to Davao City by the Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Indigenous Peoples to “rescue” lumad fleeing military abuses in their mountain communities injured 15 of the displaced folk and destroyed a number of temporary shelters. (Photo by Karlo Manlupig)
Your Armed Forces earned a sharp dressing down from a UN expert when they tried to manipulate his words and the truth (yes, pretty much Goebbels-style, right?)
You snubbed the Lumad when they came to the capital to call attention to their plight.
Yet your allies in Congress and your AFP brass — and your national security office in Malacanang — hosted pet datus as they preached their belief that anyone with “alien” ideology was fair game for murder.
Your hand-picked successor Mar Roxas ignored entreaties by a governor from your own party. Indeed, when a refugee shared his plight, Mr. Roxas urged him to deliver himself unto the AFP — the very same folks who’d sent him scrambling for safety.


Nobody came to the aid of 15-year old Manobo boy from Sitio Mando, Barangay Mendis, Pangantucan, Bukidnon.
He didn’t just hear of the murders of his kin, Mr. President. He actually begged soldiers to spare their lives, appealing that his father, brothers and cousins be jailed if, indeed, they had done anything wrong. His father was 70 and blind; his brothers 20 and 19 years old. One of his cousins was 13 years old; the other was 17.
He begged the soldiers, Mr. President. And they shot father, brothers and cousins, one by one.
Remember them, Sir?
Lumad and supporters hold candlelight rites for Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo and 57 other Lumad murdered under the Aquino administration. (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)
On September 1, in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao Sur, the head teacher of a lumad alternative school was found murdered.
Emerito Samarca’s students at the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) discovered his body. The folk at Diatagon had no access to education until private efforts established Alcadev for Manobo, Banwaon, Higanon, Talaandig and Mamanwa youth.
AlcadevYou spurned Alcadev’s students when they were in town late 2014 to protest the militarization of their schools.
A year later, these same children saw Dionel Campos and his cousin Belio Sinzo murdered by paramilitary troops.
The three gentlemen’s crime — providing a safe space for the education of children neglected by government.
No one came to help the hapless Lumad, Mr. President. No one from your government. It took private citizens and people’s organizations and churches to come to their aid.
And don’t you talk of coming to the aid of people suspected of being communists.
There have been more than 300 cases of extra-judicial killings under your administration. Eighty of these involved indigenous people or tribal groups. Almost always, people your government suspects of being communist.
You couldn’t even be bothered over the death of hungry farmers, Mr. President. Spare us your warnings.
KILAB MARCH 31 Screen Shot
We know about tyrants and what they can do to the country.
You speaking on our behalf isn’t just silly and thoughtless as you often are. It is criminal, because it seeks to use legitimate fears to cover-up your government’s attrocities.
Your government kills teachers and children, Mr. President. WE WILL NOT FORGET.


My son calls him, “the real action man.” A friend, a true-blue capitalist from Binondo, beams on hearing the name Neri Colmenares.

Neri Colmenares (#11) is the first and only one of two names on my Senate list.

The man lawyers call “Comrade Amparing” has given honor to the term “activist”.

He paid his dues as a teenager – arrested, tortured, jailed.

He has never acted like he’s owed for the sacrifice.

After years as a human rights lawyer and three terms as Bayan Muna representative in Congress, Neri continues to invest his soul and root his politics in the “karaniwang tao.”

The people’s lawyer became the people’s fighter in the House of Representatives, bastion of traditional politicians. He authored 11 laws, including these:

  • Amending the Rent Control Act by prohibiting excessive rent for low income groups;
  • the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) law, increasing the salaries of PAO lawyers;
  • the law requiring disaster warnings through text; and
  • the law creating Special Election Precincts for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.

These are laws that affect the lives of millions of Filipinos in ways that truly matter.

He authored several human rights laws including the law compensating human rights victims during Martial Law, the Anti-Torture Law and the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law.

His bill for a P2,000 pension hike for Social Security System members sailed through the House of Representatives. Senators gave him the highest display of respect by adopting his bill en toto and passing it swiftly.

He aims for the elimination of VAT on electricity, water and fuel; the prohibition of privatization of public hospitals and public health services; the increase in income tax exemptions; the Freedom of Information Law.

He’s also the main author of the bill, Magna Carta of Airline Passengers Rights, to protect passengers from abusive airline companies. You and I know how important this is.


It’s easy to see why Neri has worked so well in the House of Representatives.

Soft-spoken, polite to all, with a comic bent, he is ferocious when attacking abuse and persuasive in advocating his causes.

Colleagues across party lines stress his diligence, sharpness and his skill in building consensus where it can be forged.

His labors extend beyond the doors of Congress, all the way to the Supreme Court where he won a decision stopping Meralco and other electric companies from imposing excessive electricity rates in Metro Manila and other provinces.

He was also petitioner in the Supreme Court cases which declared DAP and PDAF pork barrel unconstitutional and in the P10 Billion overcharging and refund case against Globe and Smart telecoms. He has argued before the Supreme Court several times in various petitions defending human rights and the public against excessive rates for public service — including unjust MRT-LRT rate increases.

He argued before the US District Court in Hawaii for the compensation of human rights victims on the Marcos human rights case. He is the President of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) a national association of human rights lawyers and a Bureau Member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers based in New York and Belgium.

Oh, Neri is one of a handful of candidates who openly espouse divorce. He’s for the anti-discrimination bill that gives justice and dignity to LGBT’s in this country.

Lourd de Veyra says: He’s solid.

Neri’s more than solid. In a field full of dross, he’s golden.

Plus, how many senators can sing Buchiki and What a Wonderful World and give these equal meaning?



PH climate change plans favour big business, threaten IP lands

*Featured image by Kathy Yamzon, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – National Capital Region

Thousands of Filipinos joined today’s global climate change march led by the Roman Catholic church to protest a mitigation program that they say favors big business.

As President Benigno Aquino Jr. readies for his talk in Paris on behalf of nations vulnerable to climate change, environmentalists in the Philippines say the race to build coal-fired power plans and start mining operations on indigenous peoples’ lands erode his credibility.

Environmental groups like Kalikasan, Caraga Watch and Greenpeace International say the push for coal sets back the country’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 70% within the next 15 years.

Even the government’s ambitious re-greening program covering more than 7 million hectares of denuded lands has come under fire because of the focus on plantation cash-crops that include oil palms, the source of the deadly Indonesian haze that recently blanketed Southeast Asia.

Community farm - Lianga caraga1
Lumad of the Andap Valley complex in Surigao del Sur fear their farms will wither and die with the entry of coal mining firms .

Caraga Watch, which monitors investment projects in Southern Mindanao, links these big development projects to the spate of attacks on Lumad.

More than 60 indigenous leaders in Mindanao have died in resource conflicts since 2010. Ten of the dead were children. The attacks, which almost always precede the entry of mining and plantations have displaced more than 40,000 Lumad, according to the human rights group Karapatan.

Many of the rights violations are traced to paramilitary groups that received funding, arms and training after Mr. Aquino allowed the creation of investment defense forces.

Dirty coal

Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan forecasts Mr. Aquino’s short talk next week before the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as “grandstanding double talk that will ultimately toe the line of the United States and other top big polluter countries.”

He pointed out that coal and other fossil fuel power projects in the pipeline comprise more than 80 percent of all upcoming energy projects in the Philippines.

“In order to make climate solutions work for our nation, we need to put pressure not only on the world leaders, but most especially on our country’s leaders themselves,” Bautista said.

Sen. Loren Legarda has warned that the push for coal jeopardizes the country’s commitments to ease climate change.

“They say that coal is cheap. I say, coal is not cheap. Coal affects our health, kills biodiversity and the environment, affects our waters and pollutes the air we breathe,” Legarda stressed.

alsons saranggani bigger photo
Alson’s Power Group will start operating its new coal plant on the shore of Sarangani Bay by January next year. Environmentalists fear damage one of the country’s richest fishing grounds. The company counters that it is using “the latest clean coal technology.” 

The government’s energy program originally called for a 30-30-30 energy mix with natural gas, coal and renewables each accounting for 30% with 10% reserved for alternative technologies.

Legarda, however, said coal now dominates the country‘s energy mix, accounting for for 42.5% of power generated. By 2020, she added, coal would account for 56% of the mix.

“Barring any intervention, this will further increase to 75% by 2030— the highest share of coal among countries in Asia,” Legarda said.

Twenty-three new power plans are starting operations in the next five years.

“By embracing coal, the Philippines loses its credibility in fighting for a good climate change treaty,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia said.

Government’s coal program ignores the Greenpeace’s warnings in its 2012 report:

“From mining to combustion, coal is the most polluting of all fossil fuels. A third of all carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal … Coal releases more carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel and coal mining is responsible for 8-10% of human-made methane emissions globally.”

Threat to Lumad lives

Michelle Campos lost her father, Dionel, to a September militia attacked linked to coal mining. Soldiers acting on behalf of mining firms are demand a halt to Lumad resistance in the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley complex, she said.

While Lumad huddled in a displacement camp, mining firm Abacus brought in mining equipment and personnel into the valley, according to Caraga watch.


Data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the environment department show half a dozen mining firms, including some responsible for horrific disasters, preparing to start operations.

Coal mining contracts cover 6,000 hectares in Lianga, Campos’ hometown, where militia killed her father, an uncle and the head of a Lumad school for “poising the minds” of IPs against extractive industries.

The town hosts the world’s biggest coal block reserve, according to Caraga Watch.

Coal, the country’s major lignite reserve, can be found in three of its provinces: Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. The biggest bulk of coal reserve is said to be found in Bislig and the Andap Valley Complex which covers the municipalities of Tandag, Tago, San Miguel, Cagwait, Marihatag, San Agustin and Lianga in Surigao del Sur.

Aside from approving coal mine applications, the government is pushing construction of coal-fired power plants in Surigao del Sur and nearby provinces.

Mr. Aquino promises peace and greater economic standards from his development thrust.

The Ibon Philippines think tank, however, notes that most of the financial gains from mining — the country’s mineral reserves are valued USD 1.387 trillion or five times the country’s 2013 gross domestic product —  go to the big private firms.

Resource conflicts, meanwhile, put much burdens on local government units whose please to disband paramilitary forces have been ignored by Mr. Aquino.


“When we protect our ancestral lands we also protect all Filipinos, especially Mindanaoans, from environmental devastation and food insecurity,” Campos stressed. “When President Aquino talks of development and peace, he means the peace of the graveyard for our people.”




Hear this, APEC: In PH, they kill people for their thoughts

In the saga of the Philippine Lumad, the indigenous peoples of Mindanao staving off the theft of their ancestral lands, many fantastic claims and suggestions have been heard from the government.

The most outrageous statements have come from officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and their Commander in Chief.

There is no campaign against the Lumad, said President Benigno Aquino III, who wants the Lumad out of Liwasang Bonifacio before the arrival of APEC summit delegates. READ: Lumad hold fast, defy orders to dismantle camps. 

Sixty of them, including ten children have been killed under his watch. Yet, to Aquino, who has brushed aside mounting charges of human rights violations by the military, only criminals need to fear the AFP.

Lumad and supporters hold candlelight rites for Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo and 57 other Lumad murdered under the Aquino administration. (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)
Lumad and supporters hold candlelight rites for Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo and 57 other Lumad murdered under the Aquino administration. (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)

Military officers and the datus who support the militia they train, initially said the NPA is to blame for the killings. When identities of the killers are brought up, they shift and say the NPA is to blame because they brainwash the Lumad into becoming supporters.

But nothing has come close to the proposition uttered today in the House of Representatives hearing led by Rep. Nancy Catamco of North Cotabato — who prides herself in being a goddess to the Lumad and whose idea of saving them is to send an armed force to wrest them from sanctuary.

READ: Lumad goddess storms sanctuary of threatened IPs

With Catamco throwing leading questions, some Manobo datu or chieftains gave a novel justification for the killing on September 1 of Emerito Samarca, the head teacher of an award-winning school for Lumad youth.

Samarca’s students found him sprawled in his room at Alcadev, in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, with a bullet wound in his chest and a throat slit from side to side. The children discovered his body a few minutes after witnessing the execution of Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo by paramilitary forces.

The militia had earlier forced Alcadev’s entire population out of the school compound, but held back Samarca.

Dionel Campos', daughter, Michelle graduated from Alcadev, passed the equivalency exams and was enrolled in a BS Education course when militia murdered her father. She has dropped out to seek justice for his death. Here, she leads protests at Camp Aguinaldo. (Photo by Kilam Multimedia)
Dionel Campos’, daughter, Michelle graduated from Alcadev, passed the equivalency exams and was enrolled in a BS Education course when militia murdered her father. She has dropped out to seek justice for his death. Here, she leads protests at Camp Aguinaldo. (Photo by Kilam Multimedia)

Here is impunity in its full glory. Here are government-approved “leaders” and a legislator making a case for the killing of a teacher. 

His crime: supposedly “poisoning the minds of students”. 

Catamco had tried her best to portray Alcadev, an award-winning alternative school for Lumad youth, which has earned fame for the academic achievements of its students and for improving farm yields in the Andap Valley, as a nursery for rebels.

Catamco: “Why was Samarca killed? Was he killed through the magahat?”
Datu Jumar Bucales of San Isidro, Lianga: “Siya ang naglalason sa mga tao (He poisoned the people).”
Catamco: “Iyan ba ang rasondahil siya ay may nagawang kasalanan sa tribodahil inapakan niya ang kultura ng tribo sa pagtuturo ng isang ideolohiya (Is that the reason, because he sinned against the tribe and trampled on tribal culture by teaching an ideology)?”
Bucales: “Iyan ang rasonkasi iyong mga graduate ng ALCADEV pumupunta sa kilusan (Yes, because the graduates of ALCADEV choose to support the movement).”

You would think a legislator would recognize the fact that the Constitution and the penal code of the country ban murder.

Instead, Catamco tried to frame murder as an acceptable act under Lumad customary law, suggesting that the decision came under the auspices of a Lumad ritual. Bucales answered in the negative.

And then the former chair of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) said former rebels among the Lumad may have undertaken the situal for the magahat because the community would not heed their demands to stop supporting rebels.

This is the Philippines, supposed one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies.

This is the Philippines, where the military and Malacanang national security aides, and the entire coterie of paramilitary datus, have their own peace plan for the Lumad.

First, the Lumad should all decamp from displacement centers, leave Manila and return home, where they can settle their “problems” away from the prying eyes of media, rights groups and worried clergy and nuns of various churches.

Second, the Lumad must turn over all chieftains suspected of supporting the rebels.

To the AFP and their minions, support for rebels means opposition to logging, mining and plantation spreads. As Michelle said in her message to President Aquino: the peace they seek is that of the graveyard.


The statements made in Catamco’s hearing can be understood better in this context:

Marcial Belandres, far left; Rico Maca, 2nd from left; Arthur Tariman of National Alliance for Democracy, 3rd from left; and Nestor Apas, far right at a meeting with bloggers organised by staff of Malacanang's National Security cluster. Photo by Raymund Villanueva, Kodao Productions
Marcial Belandres, far left; Rico Maca, 2nd from left; Arthur Tariman of National Alliance for Democracy, 3rd from left; and Nestor Apas, far right at a meeting with bloggers organised by staff of Malacanang’s National Security cluster. Photo by Raymund Villanueva, Kodao Productions

I met Marcial Belandres, a friend of Bucales and one of those datus linked to killings to Lumad leaders, during a Malacanang-organized meeting with bloggers.

He admits having killed former comrades. He has also been tagged as among those who killed of Henry Alameda, Campos’ predecessor, last year. Alameda’s wife identified him.

Belandres and Nestor Apas, another pro-AFP datu who claims to be the leader of the Talaingod lumad, say the NPA has eroded their role as tribal leaders.

Probed on this claim, they complain that their people have started questioning their decisions.

Apas seems to think Lumad under his “domain” have no freedom to make up their minds on issues. This is the root of his charge that the evacuees at the Haran mission compound in Davao City are victims of trafficking.

It is a claim shared by Catamco. Apas is unabashedly pro-mining.

I once asked a military officer – a Lumad from Bukidnon – what happens when a datu’s constituents actually disagree with him and want to leave the community to escape military harassment. His answer: the datu must prevail.

A study sponsored by the German federal government and aided by the NCIP, noted many violations committed in process of getting “free, prior, informed consent” (FPIC) from owners of ancestral lands. It also pointed out that some datu – traditionally with powers to act for their communities, had exploited the process.

Peace pact

The study also hinted at what may be the real cause of Apas’ and Belandres’ complaints: pro-mining datu were at times thwarted by constituents’ preference for one-person-one-vote process.

This, the datu take to be the handiwork of the communist underground.

Apas and Belandres spent hours peddling their peace process.

Belandres, who believes he should be rewarded with rubber and palm oil plantations for his exploits, said only the AFP shall be allowed to witness the “peace pact.”

Asked what happens if the Lumad refuse to accede to demands that they allow “development” in their areas, Belandres said this should be blamed on the rebellious NPA datu.

Asked how datu known to coordinate with government officials on behalf of their communities could be guerrillas, Belandres said many rebels do not carry arms –but that does not mean they are innocent.

Belandres, Bucales and Rico Mapa , among others, are datu who command the paramilitary forces in Mindanao.

The military trains and supervises these militia – as the governor of Surigao del Sur has repeated in interview after interview, hearing after hearing, as senators and rights officials of the government acknowledge.

Your lands or death

Datu Datu Tungig Mansumay, of the Talaingod Manobo
Datu Datu Tungig Mansumay, of the Talaingod Manobo

Datu Tungig Mansumay-at, a Talaingod Manobo, told me that with every incursion into Lumad communities, the military come with one message.

“The military tell us, ‘you, datu, when the NPAs are gone, since you are the one near the Pantaron range, you will get rich because we can facilitate projects under the government,” Datu Tungig said.

Deployment of government military units with militia in Mindanao has traditionally followed the path of big-ticket encroachment into indigenous peoples' lands. Graphic courtesy of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
Deployment of government military units with militia in Mindanao has traditionally followed the path of big-ticket encroachment into indigenous peoples’ lands. Graphic courtesy of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan

Soldiers also equate peace with the “surrender” of the Talaingod Lumad and their enrolment in the area militia called the Almara, he added.

President Aquino himself approved the funding of these militia by mining corporations.

The military peddles that same line of the datu in Catamco’s hearing. Catamco loves spouting off on customary law to justify attacks against restive Lumad.

There are no civilians. There are only pro-government forces – or rebels. People who oppose government-sanctioned plans are rebels. And rebels are fair game for killings. 

This is the Philippines, APEC.

Lumad hold fast, defy orders to dismantle camps for APEC

So many people are calling out, “Peace! Peace!” on behalf of the thousands of Lumad forced out of homelands because of military and paramilitary offensives. Many of these would-be saviors are the same ones urging “development” of indigenous people’s lands, citing the billions of dollars waiting for Lumad and country from the proceeds of mines and plantations.

Seven hundred Lumad are in town to protest what they say is government’s deliberate neglect of their crisis. Their charge is legitimate.

Sixty of them, including 12 children have been murdered by soldiers and paramilitary troops; close to 200 schools have been attacked or closed, by or on the instigation of military officials.

Human rights violations include giving Lumad peasants only so much time to work their fields – you go past three hours and your are interrogated for being a suspected supporter of the New People’s Army.

To their plaints, the government responds thus:

  • Go back home and then we’ll discuss your problem.
  • You can’t live under these conditions. We’ll resettle you while we look for solutions to your problems. (In Lianga, where 3,000 people have evacuated, there are approved applications for mines and plantations, only pending proof of “social acceptability”. The Lumad are being hounded precisely because they reject these the entry of these projects.)
  • If you don’t want resettlement, we’ll just split you up and send you to nicer facilities.

The solutions address issues that are irrelevant to the Lumad. As one famously told Rep. Nancy Catamco during a tumultous Davao City “dialogue”: Of course, we stink, because conditions are less than ideal. But they would rather smell than die, thank you.

On the actual conditions that fuel displacement, the answer is silence or manipulations to cover up the truth. Read AFP apologizes to UN expert

Who has really acted on Surigao Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel’s repeated statements that paramilitaries are creations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines? The perpetrators of the Lianga massacre are not just known to the military; they actually hold camps within hailing distance of AFP facilities.

The AFP claims it knows nothing of the paramilitary. Yet even as Sen. TG Guingona held hearings at the Lumad displacement camp in Tandag City, he was receiving reports of more operations by the same group – in the company of soldiers.

Army spokesman Benjamin Hao makes a claim – only the New People’s Army oppresses the Lumad. Military officials must live in a parallel universe because the Chair of the Commission on Human Rights has tagged at least two incidents as extrajudicial killings. Scout Rangers were identified as the killers in the Pangantucan massacre in Bukidnon. They even sent emissaries to broker a settlement.

The government of President Benigno Aquino III is pretty much known to ignore problems until and unless these blow up in their faces. Then they engage in spins, enough spins to make themselves dizzy. They stonewall, they dodge, they do anything but address the problems of their own making.

Yes, the Lumad crisis should be blamed on Mr. Aquino. He approved the creation of militias funded and organized by mining firms and assorted big investors, but trained and supervised by the AFP.

Even when mining firms clearly violate regulations, they are given a free pass, especially when the companies are owned by allies of Mr. Aquino. Yes, even when the Supreme Court has ruled on these violations.

Malacanang is in a tizzy now.

Mr. Aquino wants to showcase Filipino “hospitality” for the leaders of member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Aside from interrupting life as we know it in the national capital region, he sent aides at the Presidential Security Group, the Philippine National Police and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to convince Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada to rescind the permit given for the Lumad camp at Liwasang Bonifacio.

They have given the Lumad until Nov. 12 to disperse. The Lumad say, it ain’t happening. They will not be swept aside. They will not allow a cover up of the real cause of their displacement.

Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay says the government will not drive the Lumad out of Liwasang Bonifacio.

As Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay told professors and students of the University of the Philippines, the NPA is not the target. The Lumad are. They are the targets because what is at stake is not “peace” but that lands – their lands –which investors need for mines and plantations.

Where the Lumad have been “pacified,” the land dies, said Bai Bibi.

“They want us to go home to die. Because we will die, unless we give up our lands,” she said through an interpreter. “And when we give up our lands, we will also die.”

In Caraga, which the Philippine government is touting as Asia’s mining capital, the lands of Lumad who have capitulated are examples of environmental tragedy. Read: Profiles of Destruction 

The Lumad are bracing for more attacks, this time in the national capital. Their many supporters, who have vowed to stand with them, will be taking turns hosting activities at the Liwasang Bonifacio.

The equation is simple to Bai Bibi. They refuse to die. They refuse to yield. The only recourse is to fight back.