They were called “vandals” and were snubbed by President Aquino, yet the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao are heading home with “victories” in their campaign against militarization and plunder of resources in their land.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA — After a month-long campaign, the travellers from Mindanao are heading home more inspired than tired, more fired-up than frustrated.
From Nov. 13, some 300 Mindanao activists, mostly Lumad, travelled for two weeks, arriving on Nov. 24 in Manila, where for two weeks they conducted a series of protests and dialogues with government agencies. The campaign culminated on Dec. 10, the International Human Rights day.
The Lakbayanis will be facing the same problems when they get home, because even as they pack up to leave, new batches of evacuees have left Lumad communities today, Dec. 10.
“On Dec. 12, we are heading home more inspired and fervent to carry on the struggle against foreign extractive companies, against attacks in our schools and communities, and to call for the withdrawal of US troops,” said Jerome Aba, spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro.
“We, from Mindanao, have shown that there is no genuine peace in Mindanao, because of the presence of 55 battalions, and the human rights violations under Oplan Bayanihan, in spite of peace negotiations,”said Aba.
Aba said that during the journey through Southern Luzon, they met other victims of human rights violations. “We have seen for ourselves how Oplan Bayanihan is a national policy that affects all citizens,” he said. The Mindanaoans were joined by activists from the Southern Tagalog who marched with them to Manila.
“One thing that enrages us is that President Aquino snubbed us Mindanaoans. He proved that we are not his bosses, rather, our enemies, the big companies and the human rights violators are his bosses,” he said.
The Manilakbayan even called Aquino “Killer Storm Noynoy, with international name: Malupit,” as pun to the recent typhoon Ruby, with international name “Hagupit.”
The six demands of the Manilakbayan are: the pull-out of military troops in the communities, the revocation of the Department of Education Memo 221 which allows the entry of soldiers in schools, as well as a stop to the attacks on schools, the dismantling of Lumad paramilitary groups, a halt to the operations and encroachment of large-scale, foreign mining companies in ancestral communities and peasant lands, and the pull-out of US troops.
Jomorito Goaynon, Manilakbayan spokesperson, said that although they were denied an audience with President Aquino, they got the attention of lawmakers, and other government officials during their stay in Manila. The Mindanaoans attended a congressional committee hearing on the effects of palm oil plantation. They also had a dialogue with Department of Education Secretary Armin Luistro who gave his commitment to look into their demand to scrap Memo 221, which allows soldiers in schools.
Goaynon said they also got a commitment for a possible House or Senate committee investigation on their demands, particularly, Senator JV Ejercito who said he will study the documents of the Mindanao groups.
Goaynon said that even as they prepare to go back to Mindanao, they received information that a number of families have fled their homes to escape military operations.
He said some 30 Higaonon families evacuated in Claveria, Misamis Oriental, while Manobos also left their homes in Trento and Bunawan towns in Agusan del Sur, and in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
“We’ll be facing the same problems, such as the continued recruitment of paramilitary among the indigenous peoples,” Goaynon said. In Bukidnon, he said there were reports that the paramilitary Bagani Force has been looking for one of their leaders Jeffrey Mandaguit of San Fernando town.
Another Manilakbayan delegate said he is expecting the soldiers in his community to be questioning them. “They always harass us when we leave our place to join a rally or an activity,” he said.
On Dec. 9, the Manilakbayan filed a complaint of police brutality at the national office of the Commission on Human Rights. The complaint was based on the violent police dispersal during their Nov. 29 protest in front of Pres. Aquino’s house on Times street in Quezon City, where nine protesters were injured, and Antonio Flores, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) was arrested.
Jayvee Apiag, secretary general of Karapatan-North Cotabato, and one of those assaulted by the police, lamented the “mercenary tradition” of state security forces.
“We have no arms, we only have our voices and our placards, and the police response was violence,” said Apiag.
Unable to run after most of the activists, Quezon City police station commander Pedro Sancez climbed up the protesters’ makeshift stage and attacked those within reach. Apiag lost consciousness after Sanchez hit him in the collarbone with a truncheon. Apiag said he regained consciousness at the East Avenue Medical Hospital, where he was diagnosed to have a minor blood clot where he was hit.
“We did not get any substantive response from the government, but this doesn’t mean that our struggle ends here,” said Jayvee Apiag, spokesperson of Karapatan-North Cotabato.
“In fact, this means that we have to intensify our calls, as the government appears deaf and blind to the problems and situation of the people, specially in Mindanao.”
Apiag said that they will carry on documenting human rights violations and working for justice for the victims, “in all available forms.”
Angelyn Montenegro, 14 and a grade 8 student at the Alternative Center for Agriculture and Development (Alcadev), said she is coming home with more “dasig,” the Cebuano for “inspiration.”
A first-timer in Manila, Montenegro said it was her first time to experience a violent dispersal by the police. She was among the protesters at Times street on Nov. 29.
“In Mindanao, they do not block us, but here, they beat us up. Here, I learned how to face the police,” she said.
“I felt nervous at Times street, but I also felt stronger, firmer in my commitment, ‘nadasig’ (inspired),” she said.
Although it was tiring, she said, they gained “victories” in return. Montenegro said one such gain was that DepEd secretary Luistro faced them in a dialogue.