“We are enraged that the government’s answer to our legitimate call for land and justice has always been militarization.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Josephine Pagalan, a Lumad leader from Surigao del Sur, longs for home.
It has been six months since Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur have evacuated to Tandag City following the < ahref="/2015/09/01/deadly-rampage-lumad-school-head-2-manobo-leaders-killed-in-surigao-sur/">Sept. 1 massacre of three Lumad leaders.
“We could not go home because two Army battalions have been deployed in our communities and the suspects are joining the military operations,” Pagala said in a forum organized by the Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women) and BAI Indigenous Women’s Network in the Philippines, March 3.
Despite a standing warrant of arrest against members of the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group implicated in the murder of Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo and Emerito Samarca, suspects remain free.
Pagalan, along with members of Amihan and BAI, held a protest action at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) demanding an end to military encampments in schools, day care centers, and barangay halls in various peasant communities.
According to Amihan, since 2010, 215 farmers and 75 indigenous people were victims of extrajudicial killings, including 27 minors. Within the five-year implementation of the counterinsurgency Oplan Bayanihan, there have been 15 cases of massacre with 25 victims, including seven minors.
Amihan said 185 cases of military attacks were recorded on 167 schools while over a thousand Lumad students have been affected by the closure of three community schools.
Zen Soriano, Amihan chairperson, said, “The military’s encampment in schools disturbs classes and puts children in an atmosphere of fear, creating an unfavorable learning environment.”
Citing data from human rights alliance Karapatan, Amihan said forced evacuation has victimized over 108,000 individuals, 73 percent of which occurred last year, and majority are in Lumad communities.
In a letter addressed to Jose Luis Gascon, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Amihan said militarization poses a serious threat on the livelihood of farmers. “It disrupts farm work as peasants are subjected to interrogation and intimidation by military forces. Worse is when they are forced to leave their communities due to military operations,” the group said.
“We are enraged that the government’s answer to our legitimate call for land and justice has always been militarization. It is a proof that this government has never intended to serve the interests of the peasantry,” said Soriano.
A petition signed by over 4, 000 farmers in different provinces was submitted to the CHR requesting an end to military encampments and the immediate pull out of military forces from rural communities.