JUSTICE Secretary Leila de Lima expressed alarm Sunday over the killing of lumad leaders in Mindanao by paramilitary groups with “a long tradition of involvement in criminal activities.”
“These crimes include vigilante operations of the most heinous kind, whether in the name of counter-insurgency or tribal retribution,” De Lima said in a statement.
The paramilitary groups accrue power and influence by force and have killed and stolen from thousands of civilians all over the Philippines, especially in Mindanao, De Lima said.
While she did not address reports that the paramilitary groups were working with Army units in the area, she called on the military to respect the human rights of communities caught in the conflict.
“It is imperative that military and law enforcement operations are conducted with the utmost concern and attention to international humanitarian laws and human rights that govern the conduct of combatant forces in an armed conflict,” she said.
At the same time, De Lima said the communist New People’s Army rebels and the paramilitary groups should stop actions that have already caused heavy civilian casualties.
De Lima said the Justice Department investigation, initiated last week, would include human rights violations, “regardless of whether the perpetrators are the NPA, paramilitary groups, or members of the state security forces.”
At the same time, De Lima deplored the “finger pointing” and “aggressive and concerted media blitz conducted by anti-administration forces” that polarized an already inflamed situation.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, meanwhile, said some 146 lumad schools for 2,896 children have not been holding classes due to the intensified militarization in Mindanao following the killing of a lumad teacher and the execution of two other lumad leaders on Sept. 1.
“The threat to close down the lumad schools was aggravated by the killing of Alternative Center for Agricultural Development executive director Emerito Samarca that brought a chilling effect on the lumad teachers and children,” Tinio said.
This was followed by a warning against others in the tribal community that they too might end up like Samarca, he added.
Citing statistics reported by Save Our Schools Network, Tinio said since 2011, 82 incidents of state-instigated attacks involving 57 schools and day care centers in Mindanao have been documented and reported by the Children’s Rehabilitation Center.
In Southern Mindanao alone, the CRC documented at least 13 attacks from January to May this year, Tinio said.
“What the military could not achieve through the Department of Education, they got via a spectacular display of brutality,” Tinio said.
Earlier, Tinio disclosed a government plan to close down the schools and put up government schools with soldiers as para-teachers. But the Education Department backed down because of a nationwide campaign against the closure of schools, he said.
“So what did the AFP do? They used the Magahat-Bagani in Surigao del Sur to kill Samarca. He was made an example,” he said.
Samarca was not just killed but hogtied, and his throat was slit from ear to ear inside his classroom, Tinio said.
Contrary to military accusations that the lumad schools are communist, Tinio said they were established by the community with the support of private groups, mainly Catholic and Protestant groups.
Tinio said a denial by the Palace of President Benigno Aquino III’s direct involvement in the anti-lumad campaign was expected but “hardly credible.”
“Malacañang would have us believe that the President is unaware of the activities of NICA [the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency], an office under his direct supervision and which prepares his daily intelligence briefing.”
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