Church groups assail paramilitary group’s attack on schools for indigenous peoples

By LYN V. RAMO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — The church-based group Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Northern Mindanao Sub-region (RMP-NMR), which recently decided to reopen literacy and numeracy schools in Agusan del Sur and Bukidnon provinces is appalled by the recent attack of a paramilitary group against a Higaonon community.

The June 30 assault, an attempt to massacre an indigenous tribal leader’s family, left two individuals killed and two others wounded as they were hit on the legs.

Killed instantly were Datu Lapugotan, 40, and Sulte ‘Amang’ San-ogan, 21, a deaf-mute. Two of the datu’s children, Michelle, 14, and Longlong, 6, were hit on the legs.

Datu Lapugotan is the younger brother of Datu Mampaagi who was
similarly killed by members of Task Force Gantangan, a Lumad armed group created by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in 2008. Datu Mampaagi was among the founding members of the Higaonon community organization Linundigan, which means “the source of all the good traditions, laws and customs” and which actively campaigned against extractive operations in their Ancestral Domain.

“These incidents clearly show what the government means by
‘development’. What happened was no different from the killings,
massacres, tortures and harassment experienced by the Lumads in the previous administration. We condemn the continuing repression of the indigenous peoples! We condemn the attack on the community which has been trying to capacitate themselves through peace-building efforts such as reopening their literacy and numeracy school,” said RMP-NMR in its recent web-site post.

According to RMP-NMR, the group asked for the reopening of the literacy-numeracy school in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur on June 10.
Melissa Amado-Comiso, the coordinator of the Lit-Num program, accompanied by Datu Man-altuwan, Datu Mantapaos Man-atibay, Benhul Hagonoy, Negosyon Lagaolao, Carolina Namatidong and Kelly Sendatol, talked to the Esperanza town Mayor Nida Manpatilan to ask her permission to reopen the said school.

Instead of getting the mayor’s assistance, the group reportedly heard a “talk” from the mayor’s spouse, former Mayor Deo Manpatilan, who is now allegedly leading the paramilitary Wild Dogs.

Wild Dogs members trained under the National Internal Security Program (NISP) of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration.

The former mayor allegedly uses the group to force communities in Esperanza to acknowledge his Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) and to recognize him as the head of the Higaonon communities in the municipality.

“Communities, including Sitio Simontanan, however, refused to concede their Ancestral Domains to Manpatilan as they continue to resist the entry of mining companies and logging concessions into their lands,” said the RMP-NMR.

These communities have, for years, been targets of military operations, having been branded as supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA), the RMP-NMR alert said. Manpatilan also accused the lit-num schools as teaching the children
ideals and songs of the NPA.

RMP initiated a literacy and numeracy (Lit-Num) school to empower the locals in knowing and defending their rights, to enable them to participate in peace-building processes, and to protect them from being taken advantage of. However, due to the red-baiting and the resulting fear of being subjected to military interrogations, volunteer teachers were unable to sustain their work.

The other Lit-Num schools sponsored by the RMP throughout the region faced similar predicaments- some of the schools were even used as camps by the military during operations.

“Only recently, the RMP decided to reopen its Lit-Num schools in the provinces of Agusan del Sur and Bukidnon hoping that the change of government allows space for such community-based initiatives,” the religious society lamented. It added that the incident in Sitio
Simontanan closes these possibilities.”

As these developed the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp) sees the incident as similar to several other incidents where government troops have trampled upon the collective rights of indigenous peoples (IP) to their land and resources, as well as their individual rights as human beings.

Piya Malayao, Kamp spokesperson, said what happened in Agusan del Sur are similar to what is going on in many IP communities in the country. She added that these run contrary to the IP calls for the administration of Pres. Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III to uphold human
rights; improve the delivery of basic social services to IP communities; stop the plunder of land and resources, especially in IP territories, and dismantle para-military groups, which get the support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“Kamp has long demanded the dismantling of armed para-military groups like the CAFGU. IPs get recruited into these groups , which are used against their respective tribes and communities,” Malayao said. She herself belongs to the Bontok-Kankanaey tribe of Mountain Province in the Cordillera.

RMP is national organization, inter-diocesan and inter-congregational in character, of men and women religious, priests and lay people. They live and work with the peasants.

Founded by the Association of Major Women Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMWRSP) in 1969, RMP members commit to support the peasants quest for justice, freedom, access to commons and genuine agrarian reform.

“As a Church of the Poor, we are strengthening in the rural poor the awareness that all have the right to live fully as human beings, to self-determination, and to freedom from oppression and all forms of exploitation,” the religious group said.()

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