A CATHOLIC bishop on Sunday issued a strongly worded apostolic message condemning the killings of lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur and demanding that the government immediately disband the paramilitary groups in the province.
“Our lumad brothers and sisters who live in their ancestral land in the mountains are divested in many ways. Divested of their right to education, [and] equal opportunity to basic services of the government. They continue to experience discrimination, human rights violations and [are] victims of persecution and exploitation of those in power,” Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar said in his message that was also signed by Indigenous Peoples Apostolate director Fr. Fortunato Estillore.
“The death of their leaders and displacement of thousands among them only reflect their situation—a situation without security for their lives, a situation of being always under threat, a situation without protection even under our laws. This is not just. This is not the will of God!” added Odchimar, who issued the apostolic message to mark Indigenous People’s Sunday.
The bishop pressed the Aquino administration to ensure a truthful and
impartial investigation on the murder of Emerito Samarca, executive director of the lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, and community leaders Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1.
The government earlier 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 in Mindanao. A human rights group had asked the UN rapporteurs to investigate the killings, but the envoys are not allowed to conduct an investigation without an invitation from the government.
In refusing to invite the UN envoys, the government said it needed to follow its own “internal processes.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees earlier disclosed that based on their records, more than 6,000 indigenous people have fled their homes in Mindanao because they have not been given state protection from atrocities and threats from the military and militias.
In Surigao del Sur alone, the UN agency said 5,590 persons, or 1,075 families, were displaced from August to October.
These included the latest evacuees—173 families or close to 1,000 persons—who fled Barangay Mahaba in Marihatag town on Oct. 2 because of “fear of the presence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Magahat Bagani paramilitary forces.”
The UNHCR said the villagers were allegedly interrogated by the Magahat about their links to the New People’s Army.
An internal report by the Army’s 4th Infantry Division also revealed that there are at least eight paramilitary groups operating in Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Sur provinces, including the Magahat group led by Manobo tribal chieftain Jomar Bocales and Bobby Tejero, a primary suspect in the killings in Lianga.
The Palace on Sunday said the government was continuing to address the situation of the indigenous people in Mindanao.
Communications Secretary herminio Coloma said there would be no vacuum even after the UNHCR announced the pullout of its office in Mindanao because of the increasing risks of operating in the south.
Coloma added that the Armed Forces and the police were working closely to pursue those responsible for the lumad killings. Sandy Araneta and Froilan Gallardo