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Army holds, harasses Lumad protesters in Surigao Sur

Nearly 200 Lumad are being held by the Philippine Army in Surigao del Sur to prevent them from participating in a rally on the occassion of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Tandag City today, human rights group Karapatan said in an alert.

The group said 36th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army soldiers in full battle gear put up a check point at Barangay Gamut, Tago town to prevent the Lumad from attending the local People’s SONA protests Surigao del Sur’s capital city today.

Rico Maca and 36th IBPA soldiers at this morning’s checkpoint. (Karapatan-Caraga photo)

Around 15 soldiers in full battle gear put up the check point and were joined by intelligence officers in civilian clothing and Philippine National Police officers, Karapatan’s Caraga chapter said in its alert.

The soldiers ordered the Lumad to alight from their habal-habal motorcycles and told to assemble on the side of the road from four to eight o’clock this morning, the group said.

Karapatan said the soldiers later called up controversial local Indigenous People Municipal Representative to the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples Rico Maca who arrived on board a white van after just 30 minutes.

Maca confiscated the Lumad’s identification cards and proceeded to check each from his book of photos of alleged New People’s Army rebels.

“Ah, nakaila ko ani. Mga pulang araw man mo! Mga rebelde mo! Solid na sila didto sa Purok 8 [Tambonon, Bolhoon, San Miguel,” Maca reportedly exclaimed. [A, I know you people. You are “red suns”. You are rebels. You are already solid here in Area 8.)

Maca was alleged to be connected to the paramilitary group led by a Hasmin Acevedo operating in barangays Umalag, Saigao, Caromata in San Miguel town, Surigao del Sur.  He frequently joins patrol missions of the 36th IBPA that harasses Lumad communities in San Miguel.

He was among the three self-declared datus presented by Malacañan Palace to the media last September 2015.

Rico Maca (Second from left), with his fellow Malacañan-declared datus and their handler Arthur Tariman of the National Alliance for Democracy (Third from left). [File photo/R. Villanueva]

Photos and videos of the Lumad were taken and their names were listed in a military logbook, Karapatan said.

Many of the participants are still being held at the checkpoint while their motorcycles have been impounded, the group reported.

Progressive groups all over the country are conducting protest rallies against Duterte today. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

(This is a developing story. Refresh for updates.)

AFP, PNP enforce another food blockade against Lianga evacuees

The Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are enforcing another food blockade against the Lumad evacuees in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, a human rights group reported.

The 75th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (75th IBPA) as well as the local PNP blocked food aid brought by Church groups at around 11:30 AM, Karapatan Caraga said in an alert Wednesday, July 18.

Troopers have also been deployed around the Barangay Diatagon Gymnasium where the evacuees have stayed since their forced evacuation Monday, the group said.

“We should not tolerate the bakwit (evacuees) so that they will be forced to go back to their community,” the soldiers reportedly told the donors in Cebuano.

The soldiers erected a checkpoint by the national highway leading to Diatagon gym to prevent motorcycles carrying food items bought from the town market passing through the blockade, the group added.

“[The 75th IBPA and the PNP] threaten(ed) to arrest non-Lianga residents who are extending humanitarian support for about 1600 Manobo evacuees [are],” the group said.

The same army unit has also implemented a similar blockade when the Lumad evacuated last January.

The Lumad were forced to evacuate from their communities 33 days after the military put up detachments and encamped at Kilometer 9 of the said barangay.

Tandag Bishop Raul Dael (center, with pectoral cross) visit the Lumad evacuees at Diatagon. (Kasalo Caraga photo)

Bishop visits evacuees

In a separate announcement, Lumad organization Kasalo Caraga said Roman Catholic Bishop Raul Dael as well as nuns of the Diocese of Tandag visited Diatagon Wednesday night to offer support to the evacuees.

Kasalo said the prelate were able to talk to Barangay Diatagon Chairperson Metong and leaders of the local Lumad organization Mapasu during their visit.

The barangay captain admitted he was pressured by the military to sign Barangay Resolution 11-2018 allowing the establishment of a military detachment in Km 9, forcing the Lumad to eventually evacuate, Kasalo said.

The barangay leader promised to review the said resolution, the group added.

Lumad evacuees sleeping in very crowded conditions. (Photo by Chad Booc)

Harassments

Karapatan Caraga said that aside from intimidating the evacuees, the army troopers also harassed the Manobo women, asking “Kinsa ang mga ababe nga pwedeng bayran diri?” (Who are the women that we can buy here?)

The evacuees also complain of lack of water and sanitation facilities at the gym arousing fears of a health crisis.

The Lumad said their resistance to five coal mining contracts in the Andap Valley Complex have made them targets of intense militarization of their communities. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP slams Army unit, LGU

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned a military unit that tried to prevent Davao City-based journalists from covering the evacuation of about 2,000 Lumad evacuees in Lianga, Surigao del Sur Monday, July 16.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the NUJP said it strongly condemns the 4th Civic Military Operation (4th CMO) Battalion of the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that stopped the vehicle carrying five journalists from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Radyo ni Juan Network, Kilab Multimedia, The Breakaway Media and Davao Today at about 11 o’clock Monday at Kilometer 3, Sitio Neptune in Diatagon, Lianga.

A Major Jerson Igloria, battalion ground commander manning the checkpoint, told the reporters not to proceed to where the evacuees were gathered and was heard asking, “Sino yang nasa loob ng sasakyan? Mga illegal yan? ‘Di lumabas.” (Who are those inside the vehicles? Are they illegal? Why are they not alighting?)

Inquirer correspondent Barry Dacanay then alighted and tried to go near the approaching evacuees but was stopped by Igloria who told him, Sir, doon ka lang. Respetohay lang ta.” (Sir, just stay away. Let us respect each other.)

The Army officer then ordered the journalists to first secure a permit from the Lianga Municipal Social Welfare and Development (MSWD) Office before they would be allowed to cover the evacuation.

“Hintayin niyo yung MSWD kung papayagan kayo,” Maj. Igloria told them, claiming the place was an “ambush area” and therefore dangerous. (Just wait for the MSWD if it would allow you.)

A 4th CMO trooper interrogates a journalist at a checkpoint in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. (The Breakaway Media photo)

The journalists sought permission from the Lianga MSWD but were refused without explanation.

Asked later by local reporters about their refusal, Lianga MSWD officer Melita Encenzo denied forbidding the Davao journalists from proceeding to where the evacuees were.

“They just need to seek permission from the MSWDO or the barangays officials, just so we know who visits our area of responbility,” Encenzo reportedly said.

The journalists nevertheless managed to take photos and videos as well as conduct interviews when the evacuees reached the national highway.

The NUJP however said that both the military and the MSWD had no right in trying to prevent the Davao journalists from covering the Lumad evacuation.

“We stress that, in the absence of clear and present danger, neither the Army, MSWD, or any government agency has the authority to prevent any Filipino citizen from enjoying the freedom to travel and, in this case, stop journalists from covering what is clearly an event of utmost public interest and concern,” NUJP said.

The group said that even if it was dangerous, it is precisely the military’s mandate to protect civilians such as the journalists and the evacuees they were covering.

It also scored the MSWD for trying to prevent coverage of the evacuees’ plight and depriving them of assistance by withholding information that could help solicit more aid for the Lumad.

“Martial law [in Mindanao] does not justify the arbitrary restriction on coverage of the Lumad evacuation, unless, of course, we have ceased to be a democracy. What happened was a clearly unconstitutional violation of press freedom and, more importantly, of the people’s right to know,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Military encampment forces Manobos to evacuate anew

Evacuees were confronted by the 74th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

Military operations by the 75th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army drove more than a thousand Manobo Lumad to evacuate anew in Surigao del Sur Province Monday, July 16.

At least 1,607 Manobos from 11 communities of Barangay Diatagon, Lianga town and three communities from Barangay Buhisan, San Agustin town were forced to evacuate due to the encampment of the 75th IBPA in their communities since June 14, 2018, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network said in an alert.

Alternative multimedia group The Breakaway Media also reported that the evacuees started their march from their communities at six o’clock in the morning and arrived at Barangay Diatogon’s Gymnasium at two o’clock in the afternoon.

A military checkpoint tried to prevent the evacuees from reaching the national highway as well as media workers from covering the evacuation, SOS said.

More than 1,600 Manobo evacuees fill the road to Barangay Diatagon Monday. (SOS Network photo)

In their fourth forced evacuation under the Rodrigo Duterte government, the Manobos complain of human rights abuses by the military, including sexual harassment of women and teenagers.

Lianga Manobos have also evacuated in July and November last year and January this year due to intensified military operations.

The Lumad also complain of forced recruitment of Manobo men to the military’s Civilian Auxiliary Geographical Unit as well as threats, harassments, and intimidation of Lumad school students in Sitio Simowao in Barangay Diatogon.

Among the evacuees are 568 learners of the Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur and Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, award-winning alternative schools for the indigenous Lumad.

The Save Our Schools Network also said the military threatened to file criminal charges against the Lumad leaders if they pushed through with their evacuation.

The Lumad said heavy military presence at the Andap Valley complex is to pave the way for the extraction of coal from their ancestral domain by mining giants Benguet Corp., Great Wall Mining and Abacus Coal.

Andap Valley is said to hold the biggest bulk of coal reserves in the country.

The Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has yet to issue a statement on the incident. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

More than 1,600 Manobo evacuees fill the road to Barangay Diatagon Monday. (The Breakaway Media photo)

Manobo evacuees surprise Mar Roxas with blunt answers

TANDAG CITY, SURIGAO DEL SUR–Manobo evacuees surprised presidential aspirant Mar Roxas with blunt answers to his questions when he visited an evacuation site last September 8, his last day in office as interior and local government secretary.

Roxas visited his party-mate Governor Johnny T. Pimentel who brought him to the provincial sports center where about three thousand Manobos from 33 communities evacuated to escape the ongoing paramilitary operations that killed three of their leaders last September 1.

Pimentel was leading Roxas to the main grandstand where majority of the evacuees have pitched their tents when the Liberal Party standard-bearer unexpectedly turned around and instead proceeded to a small tent nearer the entrance.

The governor appeared surprised by Roxas’ move and stopped on his tracks before following his guest to the tent.

Backslapping an evacuee as he entered the tent, a smiling Roxas asked the Manobos, “Why aren’t you going back to Liang yet?” referring to the town of Lianga, the site of the massacre of three Lumad leaders.

“Because there are still soldiers there, sir,” came a swift reply in Visayan from an evacuee.

Roxas pressed on and asked, “So, aren’t soldiers supposed to protect you?”

A seated Manobo woman immediately retorted: “What protection? They (soldiers) are the ones killing our families there.”

Roxas again asked, “Soldiers?” to which the woman immediately asked back: “Who else? Bagani and the soldiers.”

Pimentel, who by this time caught up with Roxas, clarified, “Because the Bagani Forces arrive there wearing uniforms.”

The governor then asked Manobo leader Bertolo Garay to narrate to Roxas the massacre of Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo in Barangay Diatagon in Lianga town this province.

Samarca was the executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), a secondary school for Manobo youth, while Campos was the chairperson of the Manobo people’s organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sa Sumusunod (Mapasu).

Samarca was taken by members of the so-called Magahat/Bagani Forces, an armed group Pimentel said were formed, armed and trained by the Philippine Army for its counter-insurgency operations against the New People’s Army.

Alcadev students and teachers later found Samarca dead in a room in the school, his throat slit and his heart pierced by a high caliber bullet.

Campos was shot on his forehead in front of dozens of witnesses in a nearby basketball court while Sinzo was shot several times by the paramilitary force.

“(We left our) Mapasu(-organized) communities because of the military belonging to the 36th and 75th Infantry Battalions, along with their bandits (Magahat/Bagani Forces),” Garay said.

“Before dawn of September 1, they roused the residents from sleep. They first took Alcadev’s director, Sir Emok (Samarca’s nickname) and they killed him by slitting his throat. Then they herded Alcadev’s staff to the village center,” he said.

Roxas then interrupted Garay and, with a pointed finger, challenged the journalists taking videos of the exchange.

“Teka muna. (Wait.) Who are you?” Roxas said.

He said Garay could be interviewed later but said he they were having a briefing so he could listen.

A woman staff of Roxas then placed herself between Roxas and the journalists and waved her hands in front of the camera to stop the filming.

Roxas spent about 15 more minutes inside the tent, mostly by calling Social Work and Development secretary Dinky Soliman, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles and health secretary Janette Garin.

He refused Pimentel’s offer for him to see more evacuees in the grandstands.

In a brief interview with journalists after emerging from the tent, Roxas promised help for the evacuees in light of the emerging health concerns such as chicken pox.

When asked about the evacuees’ complaint about militarisation, Roxas echoed the police line that the perpetrators of the massacre were not members of the AFP.

But when asked for his reaction to Pimentel’s repeated declaration that the Magahat/Bagani Forces were created by the military, Roxas said the matter should be left with the Philippine National Police, which he said was already conducting an investigation.

He refused to answer the question about the fate of the Lumad schools as he beat a hasty retreat to have lunch with the local journalists before heading for Bislig City in the southern part of this province.

United Church of Christ in the Philippines Bishop Modesto Villasanta for his part said Roxas should first help in disbanding the paramilitary groups.

“The services these evacuees need are already being addressed by Governor Pimentel. But disarming and disbanding these groups as well as giving justice to the victims by apprehending the suspects is the best way the government could help,” Villasanta said.

#StopLumadKillings #StopKillingLumads