“We are here to bring the bad news of the attacks on the people of Mindanao. But we also bring the good news, that we are not afraid, that we know why this is happening, and that our actions are just.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – More than 2,000 progressives – from Mindanao, the Visayas, Bicol, Southern Tagalog, and Metro Manila– joined force in a protest here today, Oct. 26, calling for President Aquino’s accountability in the killings of the Lumád and human rights violations in the past five years.
The protest caravan, “Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2015” ended six days of travel, as it reached its destination this afternoon, at the foot of Mendiola, near the President’s office in Malacañang. Their calls read: “Stop the attacks on our schools, communities, and people! Support the people’s resistance to militarization and plunder in MindaNow.”
“We are here to make Aquino accountable,” the group said as they reached Mendiola.
Manilakbayan calls for the pull-out of the military in communities, stop the attacks against tribal schools, the dismantling of paramilitary groups, and the dropping of trumped-charges against progressive leaders — all of which they attribute to Aquino’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan.
The protesters said the militarization, displacement, and other human rights violations are felt not only in Mindanao, but all over the country.
The human rights group Karapatan had documented a total of 294 victims of extrajudicial killings from 2010 to September this year, 133 of them are Mindanaoans. Of these, 58 are Lumád who belong to communities opposed to mining, agribusiness and hydropower projects.
‘Aquino is accountable’
On its third year since 2012, the Manilakbayan’s call to stop Lumád killings was amplified by local and international public outrage over the killing of Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo, and tribal school director, Emerito Samarca in Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1.
The protesters scoffed at the statement by Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Coloma who said government is doing everything to resolve the Lumád killings, in a statement last week.
Ironically, as the Manilakbayan headed to Manila, the attacks on communities and schools continued, with the forcible closure of a tribal school instigated by the village chief and the military in Bukidnon on Oct. 23.
Rius Valle of the Save our Schools (SOS) Network said that this year alone, they have documented 95 cases of attacks on the 146 tribal schools in Mindanao. These include military encampment, threats on teachers, students and their parents, and attempts to burn down the school.
“The Lumád are not just caught in the crossfire, they are the targets,” said Renato Reyes Jr, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general. “Through the counterinsurgency program that unjustly targets Lumád organizations, the government hopes to weaken resistance to big mining companies that seek to plunder the country’s resources.”
Reyes also decried that paramilitary men who had been charged for the killings remain scot-free, while many are yet to be charged.
“We are here to bring the bad news of the attacks on the people of Mindanao,” said a Lumád from Kaluhhamin. “But we also bring the good news, that we are not afraid, that we know why this is happening, and that our actions are just,” she said.
Among the lakbayanis, who are mostly Lumád evacuees, are survivors of Typhoon Yolanda from Eastern Visayas, peasants, youth, urban poor and human rights group from Bicol and Southern Luzon.
Also with Manilakbayan are the relatives of victims, such as desaparecido John Calaba in Sultan Kudarat, the massacred Samia family in Pangatucan, Bukidnon, witnesses to the Lianga killings in Surigao del Sur, former political prisoners, and activists who were charged with fabricated cases.
At the Bonifacio Shrine, Bayan-National Capital Region (Bayan-NCR) Chairperson Mong Palatino hailed the lakbayanis: “Here are the people who are continuing the struggle of the great revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio.”
Palatino said government repression is expected to intensify as the leaders’ summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) approaches. “But so will the people’s resistance, and unity, not only for the Lumád but for all people who aspire for change.”
The protesters gave loud applause as they hailed the delegates who came from Han-ayan community in Diatagon village, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, specially the students of the beleaguered school, Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Development (Alcadev), as well as Michelle Campos, daughter of the slain Manobo leader Dionel.
“Datu Bello, Sir Emerito Samarca and my father are gone, but I do not feel that I no longer have a father. Right now, I see even more Dionel Camposes, who are even braver, who also dare to struggle until we gain victory. I see even more Bello Sinzos, more Emerito Samarcas, among the youth who will continue their cause,” she said.
Earlier in the morning, the Manilakbayan delegates set off from the Baclaran Redemptorist Church in Pasay city where they spent the night, and marched towards Manila along Taft Avenue. They were given a “heroes’ welcome” by various groups along Taft avenue, such as the vendors and urban poor led by Kadamay, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, medical practitioners of the Philippine General Hospital, youth and student groups and the academic community from the universities and schools they passed by, such as St. Scholastica, De La Salle University, University of the Philippines (UP Manila), the Philippine Normal University, and Philippine Christian University.
At noon, the “lakbayanis’ met with Metro Manila progressives in a “Salubungan” at the Bonifacio Shrine near Manila City Hall, where they also shared a solidarity lunch. The protesters then marched towards Mendiola.
As the protest caravan proceeded to UP Diliman in Quezon City, they passed by various sectoral groups who hung solidarity messages on several overpass along Quezon avenue, with calls to stop the Lumád killings.
At the UP Diliman, the academic community led by the Stop Lumád Killings Network, along with university officials welcomed the Manilakbayan. UP Diliman is hosting Manilakbayan’s People’s Camp from Oct. 26 to 31. The “Kampuhang Bayan” (People’s Camp) will serve as a hub for cultural sharing and political discussion.
The caravan journeyed from Mindanao from Oct. 20, and held unity marches and protests, in the provinces of Leyte, Samar, Sorsogon, Albay, Camarines Sur, Quezon and Laguna en route to Manila.