“Their murder is the murder of the peoples’ soul.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The National Commission for Culture and the Arts, “as the primary government arm dedicated to the preservation of Filipino culture,” added its voice in the growing condemnation and call for government action to stop impunity in the attacks against indigenous peoples.
NCCA chairman Felipe de Leon Jr., in a press conference in Intramuros today Sept. 17, called “for the appropriate government’s outright response and action towards the unjust killing of the indigenous peoples leaders in Mindanao and in other parts of the country.”
“With the Manobos who have come to Manila to seek help against the killings of their leaders, the indigenous peoples (IP) groups who lobby for their rights and the protection of their ancestral lands, the cultural communities who have been victims of harassment in any form, threats to life, torture and paramilitary violence resulting in unwarranted deaths — we mourn and stand together in our demand for justice,” De Leon said.
The NCCA chair said he had instructed the council’s legal services and consultant to study how they can help in efforts to “intervene for the protection of the IPs.”
With De Leon in the media briefing were indigenous leaders from the Kalipunan ng Mamamayang Pilipino (Katribu), and a student from the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), the tribal school whose executive director was among the three killed by paramilitary groups in Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1.
The NCCA cited the 68 victims of extrajudicial killings, 84 cases of attacks on schools and massive evacuation since 2010.
“The growing incidents of displacement and rising death tolls are result of the heightened imposition of military and paramilitary forces in the southern part of the country. As the government claims its military achievement in clearing out NPA-infiltrated areas, it walks a carpet stained with Lumad blood,” said the press statement by the NCCA.
“Their protests against the virtual occupation of their ancestral lands and school campuses by armed men have not been heeded. Their cries are met by the threat of guns and bombs. Lumads are made to fight against Lumads,” the statement said.
Katribu spokesperson Piya Macliing-Malayao blamed the Armed Forces of the Philippines which she said had organized and armed Lumad paramilitary groups under the government’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.
“This is a systematic program of the Eastmincom (East Mindanao Command). This is not an internal issue of Lumads, and definitely not a tribal war,” Malayao said.
Malayao said the “tribal war” angle is being used by the AFP as a “cover-up” to the accountability of its army units, such as the 36th and 75th infantry battalions, which had been identified by Lumad victims as present during the attacks in Han-ayan community, Diatagon village in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
Alcadev student Rachelle Libora, who is now one of the 3,000 evacuees in Tandag City, called for the dismantling of all paramilitary groups.
“We will not go home until we get justice for the victims, and until the paramilitary groups have been dismantled,” said Libora. “Do we not have the right to develop our school, and our community?” she said.
‘Development aggression is definitely a problem’
De Leon blamed the “misguided concept of development” for the encroachment of extractive companies into the ancestral domains of indigenous peoples, which destroys their self-sufficient way of life and indigenous culture.
De Leon called the indigenous peoples “the wave of the future…leading the fight against global warming,” as they protect their ancestral homes, environment and culture.
“The NCCA recognizes these indigenous peoples and their leaders as the core and the backbone of the country’s intangible cultural heritage. They are the bearers of our unique artistic traditions. Their murder is the murder of the peoples’ soul. As the living transmitters of time-tested knowledge systems, skills and practices, to wound them is to damage the cultural basis for the sustainable development of our nation,” said the statement.