February 20, 2015 – More than 300 lumad people from Caraga’s most militarized communities trooped to the regional office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in Butuan City to demand the agency’s intervention regarding the alleged abuses of the Philippine Army while conducting military operations within their ancestral lands.

The group staged a two-hour piket-rally cum cultural caravan outside the agency’s office while their leaders simultaneously went in for a dialogue with the agency’s regional officials.

Martial law in rural Caraga

Describing the situation in their communities as “under a state of undeclared martial law”, the group urged the agency to primarily take the lead in dismantling the various paramilitary groups present in the Caraga region as well as to take a hand in solving the plethora of human rights violations which targets lumad communities, organizations and their leaders who are staunch critics of Mining and agri-business corporations encroaching their ancestral domains.

According to Franklin Campos, Kasalo-Caraga Spokesperson “Caraga region has experienced an escalation of human rights violations in the past months. In fact, as of this time 413 families or 1,165 individuals are internally displaced from lumad communities. They are currently cramped in the evacuation centers in Bunawan, Bayugan and San Luis Agusan del Sur.“ These people fled their homes and farms because of the cyclic military operations of the Philippine Army’s nine combat battalions done under the blessing of the BS Aquino regime in line with his Oplan Bayanihan.

“Not only that,” says Franklin, “adding into AFP’s war machine are the Paramilitary groups who are armed by the military.” Provided with technical and logistical support, these groups accompany the military troops in their combat operations. He adds that the names Calpet Egua, Marcos Bocales, Mario Napungahan and Loreto Mayor Dario Otaza who call themselves ‘Bagani’ or ‘Magahat’; Eddie “Komander Bawang” Ampiawan and Benhur Mansulonay’s armed groups turned CAFGU are commonly mentioned by the people when asked who they are running from. Unbounded by any war protocol, these groups commit cold blooded killings and other crimes against the people including the harassments against Lumad school teachers and students. They have also destroyed schools and community socio-economic projects.

To make matters worse, the commission also has a hand in the formation of these paramilitary groups and has in several instances encouraged lumads applying for CADT’s to form armed militias.

In the absence of NCIP-Caraga officer-in-charge Atty. Pinky Grace Pabelic who was absent, NCIP acting regional hearing officer Atty. John E. Luneta, faced the delegation. He was unable to commit to any actions on the issues raised by the representatives of the lumad people, instead assuring them that he will inform NCIP officer-in-charge Pinky Grace Pabalic, who was not in her office, about the issues. He assured them that the commission will provide a formal response within fifteen working days.

The more than 300 indigenous peoples and peasants are part of the Tambuli Tu Kalinow – Kampohan sa Butuan (Call for peace-Butuan Camp-out). Currently camped at the Libertad Sports Complex, they represent lumad organization under Kasalo-Caraga and peasant organizations under KMP-Caraga. The group will be conducting of dialogues with concerned government agencies among other activities highlighting their calls which will culminate in a multi-sectoral rally on February 25, 2015. ##