THE government has not issued an invitation to UN envoys to visit the Philippines despite a request from a human rights group that they look into allegations that lumad leaders are being killed by a paramilitary group working for the Army in Mindanao, the Foreign Affairs Department said Thursday.
UN special rapporteurs can conduct a country visit only if there is a formal invitation from the state.
Karapatan, a human rights group, had sent a request to the UN special rapporteurs to investigate the lumad killings and urged the Aquino administration to allow the envoys to visit.
But a spokesman from the Foreign Affairs Department said no such invitation has been issued to the UN.
Karapatan on Thursday prodded the Justice Department to investigate the killings.
The group went to the Justice Department hoping to present some members of the tribe, including relatives and potential witnesses in the killings, to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
But De Lima was out and referred the group to an undersecretary instead.
“We are dismayed because we want to directly address the issue with Secretary De Lima, especially since the relatives of the victims flew all the way from Mindanao just for the meeting,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general.
Palabay urged De Lima to meet with them to clarify her earlier pronouncements that her department was ready to conduct a probe into the lumad killings.
“Because of her mandate as the Justice secretary, she is in the best position to answer questions from the victims and the relatives, about the cases they are planning to file,” Palabay said.
She added that she believed De Lima was fully aware of the human rights violations committed by paramilitary groups against the lumad because she was there when the indigenous people were driven from their homes in the town of Lianga in 2009 because of military operations in the area.
De Lima earlier said she was considering an investigation into reports that the 36th Infantry Battalion of the Army was acting with the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary forces in carrying out operations against the lumad.
In a press statement, Karapatan said that at 4 a.m. on Sept. 1, members of the Magahat-Bagani shot and killed Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo in front of other members of the community who were roused from bed and forced to gather in the middle of town.
At the same time, the body of lumad teacher Emerito Samarca was found in one of the classrooms, with his throat slit from ear to ear.
On Aug. 30, before the killings, the Magahat threatened to massacre the community if they did not leave the town, Karapatan said.
Palabay said the lumad had already filed a case against those involved before the Office of the Prosecutor in Surigao del Sur.
The witness brought by Karapatan to the DoJ identified three members of the Magahat paramilitary group and the members of the 75th Infantry Battalion of the Army, Palabay said.
On Thursday, Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel summoned top local military and police commanders to discuss and put a stop to the spate of lumad killings in the province.
Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, public affairs chief of the Army’s 4th Infantry, said they agreed to create a joint task force to deal with the problem.
Joint Task Force Tejero is named after Bobby Tejero, whose Magahat-Bagani force is said to be responsible for the lumad killings on suspicion that the tribesmen were sympathizers or supporters of the communist New People’s Army.
Earlier, the military confirmed Tejero’s group numbering more than 20 armed men were behind the killings and said they have already filed charges against them.
Karapatan blamed the military for the killings, but Armed Forces officials denied any role in the killings.
Pimentel lambasted the military for creating a monster by arming such groups to kill their own fellow tribesmen.
Karapatan insisted that military personnel who told the militiamen to kill the lumad should also be brought to justice. The group also said that it believed some of the killers were soldiers.
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