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Caraga lumads, peasants: State of region is marked with blood

February 23, 2015 – At mid-day, the gates of Almont hotel’s inland Resort were deliberately closed as security personnel scamper to control hundreds of placard holding Caraganons lining it. Inside, Sol F. Matugas, Chairperson of the Regional Development Council Delivers his first ever State of the Region Address in front of a delegation of Caraga’s regional line agencies, Local government units and partners.

“If Sol F. Matugas is telling all of us about the state of the region, he should be all accounts put into writing what we have to say” exclaims Franklin Campos, of Lumad group KASALO-Caraga. “Only few government officials have faced us since we went down from our communities and now the RDC is talking about the state of the region without allowing us to give an input on our situation in the rural areas? They should listen and face us before they dare make any grand narrative about the state of the region.“ Campos adds.

Today is the 20th anniversary since former President Fidel Ramos signed RA 7901 in 1995. The act which formally made Caraga into a special administrative region. However, unknown to most, Caraga region first took its shape way back during the Spanish period the colonizers set-up a military garrison to reinforce their invasion of Tandag. Since its inception the words Caraga and Military belonged in the same sentence.

Campos, along with 300 of his companions are part of Tambuli tu Kalinow – Kampuhan sa Butuan. A campaign which mobilized individuals from Caraga regions most militarized communities to directly engage with regional line agencies to demand intervention and swift action. They represent 8 lumad organization under Kasalo-Caraga and 4 organizations under KMP-Caraga. They are calling to “Defend our community! Dismantle the armed para-military of the Butcher EastMinCom!” The group started their week-long camp-out protest cum cultural Caravan since February 18 and have set-up camp at the Libertad Sports complex.

Prior to their picket-rally the Almont Hotel, the group tried to have talks with the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) chairman, Butuan Mayor Amante, but failed to get contact with him as he was “out of town”. Days before, the body has had talks with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples – XIII 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. Their main agenda was the dire situation that Aquino’s anti-insurgency program “Oplan Bayanihan” brought them.

“Oplan Bayanihan, Aquino’s counter insurgency program” says Franklin “has wreaked havoc in our rural communities because of our firm and organized grassroots actions to resist the incursion of Mining, plantations and energy projects. It has unleashed a mighty war machine that is composed of nine full combat battalions, four of which (2 scout ranger and two special force battalions) are under the Special Operations Command of the Philippine Army augmented by a host of paramilitary groups”

According to Campos, since 2012 under the US-Aquino regime, more or less 10,000 people have been dislocated from their livelihood from not less than 50 communities in 4 provinces in the Caraga region. There has already been 10 evacuations since the previous year of 2014 until the first months of 2015, victimizing 1,165 lumad and peasant families or 5,172 individuals. At present 413 families with 1,652 individuals are still in the evacuation centers in Bunawan, Bayugan and San Luis in Agusan del Sur, while 122 families or 591 individuals that evacuated in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur since October 2014 had recently been able to return home. They evacuated because of the killings of their leaders, harassments, their communities turned into garrisons and cyclic military operations of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion, 4th Scout Ranger Battalion, 75th and 26th IB PA. Ten (10) lumad and peasant leaders were killed during the AFPs military operations in 2014 until February 10, 2015. Paramilitary groups accompanying the military troops committed cold blooded killings and other crimes against the people. The group of Calpet Egua, Marcos Bocales who call themselves ‘Bagani’ or ‘Magahat’ and the ‘Maggahat’ group of Mario Napungahan are mainly armed by the AFP to commit harassments in the mountains. Included among these groups are Eddie “Komander Bawang” Ampiawan and Benhur Mansulonay’s armed groups turned CAFGU.

Also, Campos adds that 124 leaders of MAPASU, TAGDUMAHAN and KASALO-Caraga; leaders and active members of UMAN, KAMASS of KMP-Caraga have been filed trumped up cases. Forty three (43) of these were cases filed last 2014 and includes lumad leaders Jalandoni Campos, MAPASU chairperson and Genasque Enriquez, Secretary General of KASALO Caraga.

The group has set to engage the regional heads of the Department of interior and Local Government and the Department of Justice before capping their week long camp-out protest with a big mobilization on February 25 in time of the annual celebration of the 1986 EDSA Revolution.

“We hope to have gained some positive gains before we depart for our homes. Until then, we shall maintain our offensive posture.” says Campos. ##