“There are personal accounts from the victims themselves. These are enough grounds for charges.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, in a press conference today November 3 at the Manilakbayan’s kampuhan (people’s camp) here at Liwasang Bonifacio, vowed to stand strong with the Lumad in the protection of their rights and interests.
“This will not be easy but I do not mind it. What is important is that we will act on this and that action would be taken immediately,” Rosario Setias-Reyes, IBP president, said during the press briefing.
The IBP is a mandatory lawyers group in the country.
Reyes said they will talk to the Lumad “lakbayanis” to look into their situation. Thousands of Lumad forcibly evacuated from their communities to bring before the government their plight, as the military and the paramilitary groups formed and armed by the government have been threatening and harassing the Lumad and even killed those who are against big mining corporations that encroach on their ancestral domains.
The most recent attack was the Sept. 1 killings in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Among those killed were tribal leader Dionel Campos, chieftain Juvello Sinzo and Alternative Learning Center on Agriculture and Livelihood Development executive director Emerito Samarca.
This year’s Manilakbayan kicked off two weeks ago from Mindanao. The delegates have come from as far as Zamboanga Peninsula. In the press conference, farmer Juanito Caramba said his livelihood has been affected due to intense militarization in their area. If they try to complain or resist, he said, they would be immediately branded as members or sympathizers of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The same vilification campaign is being waged in other Lumad communities. Josephine Pagalan, indigenous peoples group Kasalo vice chairperson, said this has led to widespread filing of trumped-up cases against Lumad leaders and graver rights violations such as killings and enforced disappearances.
“This is happening in Kitaotao, Bukidnon. They are being arrested without a warrant of arrest. Then they will build the case against the Lumad as soon as they reach the police precinct,” Datu Jomorito Guaynon said.
Guaynon said the Lumad have longed to have the support of a lawyers group like the IBP to support and help them in their fight to seek justice for the rights violations committed against them.
In a statement, the IBP said that the “Lumad have undeniable and inherent right to their ancestral indigenous communities and, more importantly, the constitutionally mandated right to be protected by the State against intrusions thereto.”
For someone who experienced martial law, Reyes said creating paramilitary groups is but “an old tune.”
“We came out in the open because we cannot just bear witness to this,” she told the media after the press conference.
Reyes said she will do her part to ensure that justice would be served to the Lumad. Firstly, she said she would be speaking to IBP governors in Mindanao to form a strategy on how to go about the cases they could file. She added that the IBP will form a task force to look into the issue.
“There are personal accounts from the victims themselves. These are enough grounds for charges,” she said.
In September, members of the IBP chapter in Surigao del Sur assisted the Lumad in filing murder charges against members of the Magahat-Bagani force involved in the Sept. 1 killings.
Reyes called on the Aquino government to disband paramilitary group, which, she added, are not needed in communities that used to be peaceful. She added that red-baiting should stop. The IBP president also expressed hope that the Lumad would be able to go home to their respective communities very soon.
“Condemnation and dismay should not be the limit of our reaction to what is evidently turning out to be a systematic military-sponsored occupation of tribal lands and forced evacuation of our Lumad brothers and sisters,” the IBP said in a statement.
The lawyers group added that people responsible for the atrocities “should be found and prosecuted to the full extent of the law and, more importantly, the people in government behind such a warped and twisted military strategy, should be stopped and held accountable.”