THE government has turned down the request of the UN special rapporteurs to visit the country to look into reports of killings and human rights abuses committed against tribal communities or lumad in Mindanao.
“We could not accommodate the request of the UNSR this year,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said Monday.
The human rights group Karapatan had asked the UN special rapporteurs to investigate the killing of lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo and lumad teacher Emerito Samarca, but the UN envoys are not allowed to conduct an investigation without an invitation from the government.
Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay appealed to the Aquino administration to allow the UN envoys to visit Mindanao so that they could see the real situation of the lumad there, but the administration said it would undertake its own “internal processes” before any international bodies can get involved.
“It is best to leave the investigation to relevant authorities in the Philippines,” Jose said in an earlier text message.
But Karapatan on Monday said a probe announced by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima would be “completely pointless” because she was running for the Senate in 2016.
“She is leaving the Justice Department next month. The investigation will be useless,” said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairman of Karapatan and the Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto.
De Lima, who is expected to resign in a few weeks, earlier vowed to conduct a thorough and truthful investigation into the abuses against the lumad communities in Mindanao, taking into account the United Nations’ interest in the cases.
“Somebody will be replacing her. Can we expect continuity? You know what kind of government we have. You have to shake them up before they would move,” Enriquez said.
“Under a new leadership, we have to double our efforts. De Lima will be leaving her post with unfinished business since two weeks is not enough to dig deeper into the atrocities… and human rights violations committed on lumad and [their] advocates,” she added.
Enriquez said that on Sept. 17, De Lima was supposed to meet with relatives of the slain lumad leader, Campos, but failed to keep the meeting because she had to go to the Palace to meet President Benigno Aquino III.
“Who are we to compete with the schedule of the President?” Enriquez asked.
On Sept. 22, De Lima met with Enriquez and Renato Reyes, Bayan Muna secretary general, at her office in Manila, and vowed to look into the reports of killings and abuses in lumad communities in Mindanao.
On Monday, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate challenged De Lima to drop charges against him and other human rights defenders that he said were trumped up, and focus instead on a speedy resolution of the cases against paramilitary groups that were responsible for the killings.
“The trumped-up charges filed against us are harassment charges,” Zarate said. He said he and other members of human rights groups were merely helping the lumad and they were the ones being bullied.
“Should the Justice Department find there is no basis at all to back these charges, then De Lima should dismiss these cases outright,” he said.
Also on Monday, a spokesman for the Moro National Liberation Front said the forced ejection of indigenous people from their ancestral land and relocating them was a clear violation of an existing law granting them ownership of their domain.
MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza said the plan by the government to relocate the lumad and other tribes in Surigao del Sur constitutes clear violation of Republic Act No. 8371, “An Act to Recognize, Protect and Promote the Rights Of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples.”
“It is the government that is violating its own laws after having established a legal framework for the indigenous people’s as contained in the law,” Cerveza said.
The government suggested that lumad be relocated outside of their communities in light of the atrocities prevailing in their communities blamed on communist rebels and the militarization of their communities that has led to the killing of dozens of indigenous people since Sept. 1.
The Commission on Human Rights, which has launched its own investigation, came under fire from Manobo leaders after it refused to allow a federation of lumad participate in the inquiry.
Rather than looking into the human rights violations against them, the CHR focused instead on the conditions inside the Haran Mission House of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and asking the people sheltering there if they were willing to be transferred to another sanctuary.
The indigenous people said they preferred staying in the church compound because they felt safe there.
The military has denied involvement in any atrocities against the lumad and blamed the communist New People’s Army for the violence.
The 10th Infantry Division on Monday said it supported the Justice Department investigation on atrocities committed against the lumad tribesmen in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.
“We believe that, in light of the various views surrounding this issue, a thorough investigation conducted by a competent government institution is a step forward to find out the truth. More importantly, the lumads, who have been the victims of this controversy deserves the justice that our constitution has guaranteed them,” 10th Infantry Division public affairs office chief 1st Lt. Alexandre Cabales said.
A spokesman for the NPA on Monday said two lumad brothers who were killed early this month in the mountains of Valencia City in Bukidnon, died in a firefight with the communist rebels.
Mamerto Bagani, spokesperson of the NPA’s Mt. Kitanglad sub-regional operational command, denied the claim by military officials that the victims were abducted, tortured then killed on Sept. 13. With Maricel V. Cruz, PNA