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.


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.”




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.

On the eve of APEC summit, spotlight on Lumad

PH leaders ignore cost of ‘development’ on social margins

(First of 4 parts)

As the Philippines rolls out the red carpet for leaders of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation member-states, its own indigenous peoples are in the spotlight as advocacy groups worldwide ponder how to stop “development” from bulldozing society’s margins.

A decades-long battle for the rich earth and the minerals beneath lies at the root of the upsurge in conflict across a huge swathe of Mindanao’s heartland in southern Philippines.

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

At the center are the Lumad, non-Muslim indigenous peoples. The Lumad, with a population estimated at 7 million, have fought for centuries against new migrants, retreating in the face of superior arms and socially engineered influx.

On the last frontiers of the Philippines’ “island of promise,” they are making their last, fierce, desperate stand against government-approved mining operations and plantations.

In this section of Caraga's Andap Valley complex, Lumad had built a thriving, self-sufficient community despite government neglect. Now, armed men on a killing spree have driven them out of their homeland.
In this section of Caraga’s Andap Valley complex, Lumad had built a thriving, self-sufficient community despite government neglect. Now, armed men on a killing spree have driven them out of their homeland.

Above them are crags unfit for the cultivation of food. Below them are the teeming urban centers that annually reap the deadly harvest of runaway development. Around them, armed groups of all stripes, battling for their hearts and minds.

Global support

Of the more than 60 indigenous folk killed under the Aquino administration, 53 are lumad, from the last parcels of pristine highlands that are targets of applications for mines and plantations.

The Philippine government largely frames the Lumad problem as an offshoot of Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency. Peace and social welfare national executives fret over the ballooning number of Lumad evacuees but are mum on the causes of displacement.

There have been 14 victims of four massacres. Four of the slain were minors, according to the human rights group Karapatan.

Throw in Lumad advocates, rights workers and environmental activists and the number of extra-judicial killings in Mindanao jumps to 144.

In these areas, Lumad leaders have been massacred. The root cause: their struggle against development projects encroaching on ancestral lands
In these areas, Lumad leaders have been massacred. The root cause: their struggle against development projects encroaching on ancestral lands

More than 70 indigenous people’s organizations across Asia have signed a statement, calling on Philippine government– host to this year’s APEC summit – to end the killings. 

Joan Carling, secretary-general of the Thailand-based Asia Indigenous People’s Pact (AIPP), says at least 13 Lumad, indigenous peoples of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, have been killed this year — four every three months — by either state soldiers or paramilitary troops.

Forty thousand people, more than half of them minors, have been displaced by military and paramilitary operations. There have been 188 attacks on schools, hundreds of reported cases of harassment, including and arbitrary detentions, illegal arrests and torture, with children among the victims. Around 8,000 Lumad are now in evacuation camps. Read: Children are war targets in PH’s last frontiers

These grim figures barely hint at the real cost of the war for occupation of the indigenous people’s lands.


From 46,000 to 50,000 government troops – 55 battalions, excluding engineering and intelligence units and those involved in civilian-military relations – are stationed in Mindanao.

AFP deployment in Mindanao
AFP deployment in Mindanao

The AFP, after decades of officially taking a back seat to the Philippine National Police (PNP) on matters of internal security, have taken the helm once more in the last phase of President Aquino’s term.

Their official goal: to break the backbone of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army.

Under the Whole of Nation approach, lifted right out of the US Special Forces’ manual of operations, almost the entire civilian bureaucracy has subsumed the delivery of basic services to fit the military agenda.

In the last year of Mr. Aquino’s rule, Mindanao’s landscape looks no different from the war laboratories under  the Marcos dictatorship or his scorned predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Military officials alternate between calling the victims of rights violations rebels and claiming the killings are an offshoot of a tribal war between anti-communist and pro-communist rebels. To an economist and consultant of the AFP’s pacification campaign, any lumad killed must be considered an NPA rebel.

It is a claim that flies in the face of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) acknowledgement that the August and September incidents in Pangatucan, Bukidnon and Lianga, Surigao del Sur were clearly extra-judicial killings.

The national government’s peace and social welfare executives fret at the “unsanitary” conditions of the Lumad evacuation camps and the presence of children. But they remain silent on the cause of evacuations.

Lumad have thumbed down the solution broached by the social welfare secretary– resettlement – saying this comes straight from the playbook of those out to take their lands. Read: Lumad nix resettlement

Birds of prey

Mr. Aquino pledged to overturn or “straighten” the errors of the Arroyo administration. Yet his government has adopted his predecessor’s vision of turning one of Mindanao’s most impoverished and conflict-prone region into Asia’s mining capital.

To the embattled lumad, the main difference is that even more land now is controlled by big corporations.

Mining concessions sprawl across more than 500,000 hectares of Mindanao. Eighty percent of these mines are on lumad lands. Plantations account for 700,000 hectares, 12% of the island’s agricultural land. A million hectares more are up for grabs.

These landmarks of economic development, combined with the Marcos government’s logging concessions-award binge to cronies, have gobbled up Mindanao’s forestcover, from 70% in 1900 to just six percent in 2011.

Areas that seldom experienced floods in the past now annually suffer deaths in the thousands, with huge boulders and felled logs crashing down into entire townships.

In the Caraga province of Surigao del Sur, reports of violence against the Lumad happen in the areas of the fiercest resistance to mines and plantations.

Graphic from abs-cbnnews.com
Graphic from abs-cbnnews.com

“In the last three years, every time the soldiers come to our villages, they always demand that Mapasu, our organization, gives up its resistance against mining,” according to Michelle Campos, daughter of slain Lianga Lumad leader Dionel Campos.

Michelle also lost a mentor on the same day her father died. Emerito Samarca, the head teacher of Alcadev, an award-winning Lumad alternative school, was found dead in the school’s main building on September 1. Campos killers’ had held him back as they forced students and teachers out of the compound.

Mapasu means “persevering struggle for the next generation” in English. The 22 communities under it are among the last holdouts against mining and plantation concessions in the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley complex.

MINING - EXISTING OPSThe Andap Valley, which sprawls across nine municipalities, hosts  the biggest remaining coal block reserve in the world. It is also rich in gold ore.

More than 6,200 hectares in Lianga are counted in the blocs of approved mining applications for mineral production sharing under Philex Gold Philippines Inc. and Rosario Mining Development Co., Rosario Consolidated Mining Corporation, and Sta.Irene Mining Corporation.

Philex, is known to have caused the Philippines’ historically largest mine disaster in its mining project in Padcal, Benguet.

Another mining giant, Benguet Corp also has a coal contract that includes Lianga, aside from Marihatag and San Miguel towns.

Aside from Surigao del Sur, the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Sur are also rich in coal, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. The Department of Energy has given the green light to the establishment of coal plants in Surigao del Sur.

Rich earth, poor folk

The Mapasu community around Alcadev was famed for its self-sufficiency, which came courtesy of the counsel of Samarca and fellow agriculturists.

alcadev_harvest_0004The school’s 16-hectare compound produces enough crops to feed more than a hundred boarding students and teachers the whole year round. Two other farms, including a village cooperative, produce the surplus that have allowed Lumad to start livelihood in crafts.

They farm, they learn to love the land. And they eat better than peers in unorganised communities. (Photo courtesy of Alcadev)
They farm, they learn to love the land. And they eat better than peers in unorganised communities. (Photo courtesy of Alcadev)

The Lianga Lumad have trained a big number of indigenous health workers who volunteer in remote communities that have never seen government medical units. They even sent relief volunteers to provinces hit by super typhoon Haiyan, bringing food from their farms.

Yet that model has always been under siege. Mapasu has paid a high price for its independence and resistance. On Oct. 24 last year, Campos’ predecessor, Henry Alameda, was killed, also in front of his child.

One of the paramilitary men identified in Alameda’s killing surfaced in the aftermath of Campos’ death at a press briefing inside the AFP’s headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

MARCIAL BELANDRESMalacanang’s national security cluster also hosted a gathering for bloggers to present Belandres and three other pro-government datus.

Belandres blamed communist rebels for the Lianga massacre. The ex-rebel, who admitted having killed former comrades, demanded that Mapasu turnover its “communist datus” for an “internal Lumad peace pact” so that indigenous peoples could live in peace again.

Yet Belandres does not distinguish between the NPA and civilians, insisting supporters fall under the category of combatants.

When bloggers raised the possibility of Mapasu members standing firm against the entry of mining firms, Belandres called it a communist ploy.

The other pro-military datus in the gathering echoed the message repeatedly heard by Michelle: Mining is good for development and only communists would refuse that. A senior AFP commander in Mindanao also complained to an international human rights worker about stubborn Lumad who do not see the benefits mining firms can give to their communities.

Even back in 2009, military operations served the interests of mining firms. A report by Bulatlat.com said cited Lodestar Consolidated Holdings as recipient of the rights to mine 6,000 has. in Andap Valley. Opposition by Mapasu led to massive military deployment – and major evacuations by the Lumad.


There is little doubt that the Andap Valley hosts communist rebels.  A study by a church group in the1980s said a loose alliance between the NPA and Lumad was able to limit the entry of extractive activities and logging concerns.

Some timber concessions remain in the Andap Valley but Lumad resistance – strengthened by rebel presence – have kept their gold, copper, chromite and coal reserves intact.

Now plantations are making greater inroads into the area. Belandres said his group has asked the government to reward them with livelihood – rubber and palm oil plantations.

Palm oil plantations of Filipinas Palm Plantation Incorporated (FPPI); Agusan Plantation Inc. (API); Dole-Philippines & Sumitomo Fruits (SUMIFRU) already cover almost 15,000 hectares in Caraga.

REAP - PALMINFOTARPThe new anti-plantation alliance, REAP, says oil palm plantations have doubled their spread in Mindanao from 23,478 hectares to 42,731 hectares in the last 10 years.

Rubber plantations expanded threefold, from 81,667 hectares in 2005 to 214,314.6 hectares by 2014.

On paper, Caraga is a “model for development.” It has eight wood-based companies and15 hydropower projects. It hosts 23 of the country’s 48 large operating mines —  20 nickel mines, 2 gold mines, 1 chromite mine and 1 cement 

Kalikasan reports that seven percent of the region’s land area is covered by mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA). The government has also granted 23 existing exploration permits. Thirty applications are pending for production sharing agreements.

The department of environment in 2011 reported that mining projects in Caraga generated more than 1B taxes and fees. Official government statistics say poverty incidence dropped to 34.1% in 2012 form 43 % in 2009, raising its rank from poorest region to sixth poorest.

Photo courtesy of Caraga Watch
From the highway joining Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte, all around are scarred, red earth, the offshoot of nickel mining. Photo courtesy of Caraga Watch

Yet, the indigenous populations earlier displaced by existing mining concerns remain on the margins. They make do with seasonal work while struggling with damage to the environment and the loss of their culture — supplanted by the politics of patronage imposed by government and big business.

Those who labor to present an alternative to the government’s approved models, in turn, find themselves facing the barrels of its guns. (Next: Bai Bibi’s long fight to protect Mindanao’s heart)

NO PARADISE LOST FOR LUMAD CHILDREN (on this 40th day of Grief and Rage)

The children will not forget. They will remember. They will march home — soon.

The 40th day of waiting for justice. The 40th day of outrage as eye witness reports belie AFP attempts to wash its hands of the atrocities committed by the militia it organised, trained and supervised.

Those who think the fever of elections will drown out the voices of lumad children, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, friends have seen nothing yet.

We, in the comfort of urban centres, we. too, must not forget. We cannot be silent as the lumad struggle against the maws of death.

Dawn over Alcadev, Han-ayan, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Paramilitary forces killed on Sept 1 the head teacher of the award-winning alternative school for indigenous children. (Photo courtesy of AlCaDev
Dawn over Alcadev, Han-ayan, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Paramilitary forces killed on Sept 1 the head teacher of the award-winning alternative school for indigenous children. (Photo courtesy of AlCaDev

In the cramped tents of their evacuation camps, the children remember: 
How their parents built a school with their own hands;
How that school gave them the strength to unite in defense of their ancestral land;
How that school provided the technology and knowledge to fill their stomachs so that young ones grew strong and tall;
How that school nurtured youth who have in turn given their lives to serving their people, as agriculture technicians, health workers and teachers
How a community thrived and attained self sufficiency despite government neglect;
How that community flourished, enough that it could send seeds and crops and food stock and aid givers to victims of Typhoon Yolanda;

Art work by Alcadev students
Art work by Alcadev students

How those who want to see the lumad grovel for charity and patronage could not abide that strength and thus targeted their education and livelihood;
How men slit the throat of a loving teacher who made them his family;
How men mowed down their elders with a brazen glee that only impunity can give;
How men torched the cooperative that allowed them to pour back their resources into the land;
How soldiers ignored the cries that rent the dawn and then later laughed and mocked the grieving;
How the President dismissed their plight and the truth that his minions were laying waste to land and lives; and 
How those who had stakes in the primacy of the military and the rich patrons they protect tried to excuse the killings by tagging dissent a crime.
The children know how it is to be hounded. The children see what happens to the land when the lumad are made too weak to fight off the birds of prey.
And the children know that what they have, these gifts that allow them to speak with courage and eloquence before people who may have thought the lumad their inferiors, these gifts are beyond the reach of the avaricious.
Because education has seeped deep, because education has taught them pride. Because education has given them hope and a vision of what can be. The lumad children will reclaim their land.

Photo courtesy of Alcadev, words by author
Photo courtesy of Alcadev, words by author



BENWe know Ben. He plays a mean guitar.

We know Apad and his poetry of rage.

We know JR. We know Angelique. And Precy, the widow.

We met them last year, talked with them, ate with them, watched some crazy movie about some talking cat with them (the boys went, duh?).

Read: Children of the Storm look to Pope Francis for help

That time, our peti-burgis minds went into overdrive:

Why did these children, who said they live in the mountains, speak so well? Where did they get to be so fluent in Filipino and even in English?
What made them so articulate as they shifted topics, from oppression, to math and science and the planets and music?

Now we know all about the award-winning lumad alternative schools. The award is mainly for academics, for the good scores their students get on equivalency tests.

But that is just half the story.

Apad, left, pines for a father, an environmental activists hunted by soldiers. Angeline is a veteran of evacuations. Their travails have not dented their spirits. Photos by author

In Alcadev and the TRIPPS schools, they eat better than most lumad children in areas where communities are not organised. They wake early to farm. They eat the food they plant; learn to share life chores. They also learn to value the land that gives life to their people.

They farm, they learn to love the land. And they eat better than peers in unorganised communities. (Photo courtesy of Alcadev)
They farm, they learn to love the land. And they eat better than peers in unorganised communities. (Photo courtesy of Alcadev)

They are taught pride in their culture, in their history. They are taught independence and taught that they are equal to everyone else. They are taught about the rights of citizens.

This is what their enemies fear.

Because the downtrodden and the weak are easily shoved aside in the stampede for Mindanao’s lush resources.

Because the powers-that-be cannot stand the sight of lumad who do not grovel.

They are hunted for a simple reason. They are hunted because they act like free humans and not the slaves the powers want them to be.

Can’t wait for the Congress Lumad show

North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco wants a full-blown, multi-committee probe into the July 23 Haran botched rescue. That’s a good thing, a very, very good thing.

In a privilege speech Monday (August 17) at the House of Representatives, Catamco and her hero, the Magdalo representative Ashley Acedillo – bewailed what they called “personal attacks” on the self-styled diwata (goddess) of Mindanao’s lumad people.

Catamco, the chair of the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples, denied the following:

  • That she had harangued the lumad at Haran and called them “stinky”;
  • That she was responsible for the “rescue” that injured 15 lumad and church workers and four cops.

She reiterated previous statements about the lumad being exploited, accusing militant groups of discriminating against them. She and Acedillo claimed the lumad – all 700 plus of them – had been tricked into going to Davao by offers of a P5,000 cash gift, meetings with President Benigno Aquino III, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and boxing superstar and representative Manny Pacquiao.

During interpellation by Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, Catamco said militants had used the lumad’s “credulity”.

Catamco repeated her claim, — and showed a video to prove it — that Manobo chieftain Bae Bibiyaon Ligkayan Bigkay had sought the rescue. Likewise, she showed a video of a Lumad woman who “escaped” Haran in the aftermath of the raid, to prove that the indigenous folk were being held against their will.

The congresswoman also cited claims by datus from Bukidnon that the suicide (during a separate evacuation) of lumad Lito Lundia was because he was not allowed to return home. (Later, his wife, Tata also committed suicide.) She read a report from the regional Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) office to prove rescue was necessary because the datus in Haran refused to turn over their women and children.

And, to cap it all, Catamco said the Davao City mayor was the one who ordered the July 23 rescue.

No militarization

Police storming the UCCP Haran compound on July 23. Photo by Karlos Manlupig
Police storming the UCCP Haran compound on July 23. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

Catamco admitted that during the fact-finding mission organized by Save Our Schools, a resident confirmed soldiers had told their community not to send children to the Salugpungan school, an alternative education center organized by religious groups and the lumad community. But the rest of the people, she said, were silent. The residents left behind, she added, said there was no militarization in the area. (Rep. Carlos Zarate noted that soldiers were taking photographs during the mission.)

Acedillo picked up where Catamco left off, saying the evacuation was nothing but a tactic of the New People’s Army. He challenged legislators of the Makabayan bloc: “Are you sure you are not party to any activity to undermine the government?”

He urged the government to “directly interevene” and stop the use of the lumad by leftist forces, saying there was a “clear pattern.” He accused the Salugpungan school of recruiting lumad for the NPA. He said children were taught “Lupang Sinira” (a protest song from the Marcos era, and one popularized by singer Pol Galang) and anti-government thought.

I also learned something new from Acedillo. He said 70% of the NPA in Mindanao come from the lumad population. Thus, all the protests by lumad were orchestrated by the NPA, which kills or abducts pro-government lumad.

Full of holes
Ilagan stood up and, point by point, showed up her former student.

Who conducted the “probe” Catamco used as a basis for her privilege speech? Could the good lumad rescuer identify her sources? 

Catamco said she is keeping the datus’ identities because they are scared. She had blurred the face of one but other faces were clear. In fact, military officers have shown journalists those videos before.

Catamco claimed she had been talking to Ilagan, citing the smell of the lumad to show their miserable conditions.

Ilagan pointed out that Catamco’s own video showed the Gabriela rep in the background, quiet, while the North Cotabato legislator stridently sermonized at the lumad, angry because they would not go home.

Why, Ilagan asked, would Catamco get mad if the lumad were, as she claimed, eager to return to their farm? Because, Ilagan said, the lumad had finally caught up with Catamco’s tactic – telling her they would go home only if the government heeds their appeal for a pullout of the military from their schools and communities.

In this video, Catamco complains about lumad bringing up different issues when she wanted only to discuss how they could go home. She dismisses calls for dialogue, saying the lumad have been evacuating two years running.

One would think, she’d ask, “Why?” Instead she demands, “We want to stop this!”

“Minamanipulate nila... I have to raise my voice so the lumad know may tumatayo sa kanila”

No militarization?

Both Catamco and Acedillo insist there is no militarization of lumad communities, no harassment.

Ilagan showed footage where teachers explained why they were being harassed – because, lumad themselves, they were helping communities understand and resist the big development encroachments devastating the countryside. She showed this video

There is another, clearer video, showing teachers and a village official in Compostela Valley remonstrating with soldiers who had clearly taken over their school. You don’t string hammocks on a routine patrol. WATCH https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVFOOs3Hl1E

Weak, pitiful lumad? Hood-winked lumad? Manipulated lumad?

Bai Bigcay accused Catamco of manipulating their statements to justify the violent storming of their Haran sanctuary on July 23.
Bai Bigcay accused Catamco of manipulating their statements to justify the violent storming of their Haran sanctuary on July 23.

Ilagan read portions of UN Special Rapporteur Chaloka Beyani’s exit statement. After narrating how the Armed Forces tried to twist the UN expert’s words, she read the second statement of Beyani, which slammed the “gross distortion” of his statements.

Beyani said the lumad were in Haran of their free will; they know why they were there. He recommended holding dialogues with the lumad datus to resolve their problem. (Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gaston says he shares Beyani’s conclusion that the Haran lumad are not victims of human trafficking.)

Yes, Ilagan said, Bai Bigkay longed for home, longed for her farm, the free, open spaces, the fresh air her grandkids needed. But if Catamco was righteous in her rescue attempts, why did the elderly chieftain publicly berate her for misrepresenting the lumad, for insulting them? And then she showed that now-famous video of an outrage Bai Bigkay putting the diwata in her place. Here is the full footage of Bai Bigcay scolding Catamco after July 23 botched rescue 


Catamco tried to wriggle out of that one, implying that Bai Bigkay may have been under duress. Anyone on the floor would have seen the Manobo chieftain is no one to push around. Ilagan didn’t even have to tell peers that Bai Bigkay had earned her reputation as one of the leaders of the drive to rid their mountains of a major logging concern.

Full-blown probe

Duterte, who had previously slammed Catamco for usurping executive functions, will be tickled to know he is now the instigator of the ‘rescue’. In the aftermath of the Haran raid, social workers and cops pointed at each other. Ilagan stressed that cops could not show any arrest warrant.

It took the AFP leak of a recording of their exit briefing with Bayani to reveal the truth: as the UN expert noted, both cops and soldiers had practically pointed to Catamco as the one responsible because she had given a false picture of the Haran situation. That, as Beyani noted in his second statement, was what he meant by “manipulated”.

A post on Rep. Nan
A post on Rep. Nancy Catamco’s Facebook page, claiming proof that alternative schools are used to recruit lumad.

That’s what the cops and soldiers told him. But it’s hard to imagine the security forces were taken for a ride, given that the same and Catamco were already jointly hammering on the “human trafficking” angle. Certainly not with their push – echoed by Acedillo – claiming everything is a conspiracy to strengthen the NPA

In this report, for example, Davao City Police Office (DCPO) Director Sr. Supt Vicente Danao Jr. displays the mindset that led to the Haran raid. He cited reports of three other lumad deaths aside from the documented suicide during a separate evacuation.

“The purpose of the (July 23) operation is not to force them out but to rescue those people because of the reported four deaths,” said the police officer. There were no official reports, no blotters, unlike the suicide case.

“Yung [The] report came from the tribal leaders and the relatives of the lumads, it was reported to the military until it reached us,” Danao said.

Then the police officer goes on, saying he has nothing to prove because it is the duty of the support groups to prove that the reports of three other deaths in Haran are not at all true.

Catamco, at least, has done one good thing. A full-blown probe would allow all the actors their day before legislators. Duterte and Bai Bigkay will draw a standing-room only crowd, though there are many colorful characters also on the other side.

Dawn comes to the mountains of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, home of lumad defending ancestral lands from encoraching developers.  (Photo by Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan)
Dawn comes to the mountains of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, home of lumad defending ancestral lands from encoraching developers. (Photo by Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan)

We will then hear from the teachers and students, find out the truth about a young man who claims he was made to act as spotter for the NPA, find out the real truth about Lito and Tata, and their recently “abducted” kin.

Most of all, we will hear why the lumad are restive; why – as Acedillo claims – they have formed an alliance with the NPA.

We will hear about all the lumad slain defending their lands from miners, loggers, operators of plantations – 40 plus lumad dead by last count, including ten from the Tampakan mine areas. We will hear of a priest murdered in defense of the lumad and hear of how Catamco, the great rescuer, allegedly protected the suspects.

Acedillo’s number ought to make us think. Are the NPA so good and the lumad so credulous? At the very least, we’ll know why the heartland of Mindanao is once more filled with days of disquiet and rage.