“What the CHR fails to show, is that the Lumad themselves are being targeted by the military – with or without the presence of the NPA.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Progressive youth groups and a partylist lawmaker slammed the recently-issued statement by Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on the Lumád killings, saying that the government agency “to a certain extent absolves” the military in the attacks against the indigenous communities.
“The problem with the CHR’s report is that it downplays the role of the AFP in the internal displacement and the continuing violation of rights of the Lumád,” said Kabataan partylist Rep. Terry Ridon.
“The CHR is whitewashing the issue by painting a portrait of the Lumad as simply being ‘used’ by the AFP and the NPA in the ongoing civil war in the countryside,” he said.
The CHR said both the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and National Democratic Front (NDF) are accountable for recruiting and arming Lumád for combat.
Even as the CHR called for a stop to the killings and for the upholding of the Lumád’S right to self-determination, it said groups should “refrain from exploiting the Lumád for furtherance of partisan political agenda.”
“What the CHR fails to show, however, is that the Lumad themselves are being targeted by the military – with or without the presence of the NPA,” Ridon said.
“The Lumads are not mindless people simply caught in the crossfire. They have a reason to fight back. This is what the CHR fails to understand. This is what the CHR is obscuring,” he said.
Last week, the #Manilakbayan2015 picketed the CHR office in Quezon City for its slow action in helping resolve the human rights abuses. Human rights and indigenous groups have attributed the killings and other attacks on the Aquino government’s counterinsurency program, Oplan Bayanihan.
Ridon said that by blaming both the military and the revolutionary groups, the CHR “failed to put the issue in context” and to answer questions why the military and paramilitary groups are attacking schools, communities and children.
“The issue here is not whether the AFP or the NPA are recruiting Lumads to their ranks. The issue is how the AFP is forcing the Lumad to form paramilitary groups and join the CAFGU under duress. The issue is how the AFP is militarizing ancestral lands, not to neutralize the enemy ranks, but to protect private business interests,” Ridon said.
Charisse Bañez, chairperson of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), called the CHR statement “a mere lip-service, toothless” and lambasted CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon for ignoring Manilakbayan’s call to pull out the military in the communities, disband paramilitary groups, and re-open tribal schools.
“It is internationally recognized that there is an ongoing civil war in the Philippines and the statement of CHR fails to understand this context,” Bañez said.
“While some Lumad might have joined the NPA because they see it as a way of defending their right to their ancestral domains, it should not be an excuse for the AFP and the Aquino government to attack alternative schools, communities, and the unarmed Lumád,” she said.
Ridon said that the CHR should campaign for the resumption of the peace talks and support the Manilakbayan calls. CHR chairperson Gascon was a member of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) panel in the peace talks with NDF, which had been stalled since 2011.
“This is exactly why we are pushing for the continuation of the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDF – to address the root causes of the conflict, to understand deeper why some Lumads would rather join the resistance than continue being oppressed and persecuted by the military,” Ridon said.
Ridon called on Gascon to listen to the Lumád datus who are with the Manilakbayan.
“Our simple appeal to the CHR: Listen to the Lumad datus now here in Manila, and they will tell you how many Lumads are forced by the AFP to join counterinsurgency campaigns, how the military threatens the families of the Lumads if they don’t abide. Listen to the likes of Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, Lumad datu of Talaingod, and you’ll also understand why there are Lumads who would rather join the NPA to fight back against the continuing plunder of their ancestral lands and the abuses perpetrated by the army’s counterinsurgency program,” Ridon said.