Message of ‘Manilakbayan’
This refers to President Aquino’s “welcoming” the farmers from Mindanao in Malacañang whom he deceitfully “vowed to support” by pushing for the passage of a law that would outline how coconut farmers could benefit from the P72.8-billion coconut levy fund.
We would like the President, if he does not know or refuses to, that we of Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2014 are also here in Manila, encamped in makeshift tents.
We are more than 300. We come from different sectors and indigenous tribes of Mindanao, joined by several people’s organizations from Luzon particularly Southern Tagalog.
From Mindanao, we traveled for 14 long days in hopes of catching the attention of the entire nation and drawing it to the human rights situation in Mindanao. We stayed for a night in Mendiola last Nov. 24, the day we arrived here, and conducted an indigenous people’s ritual called Kodaw (a knotted strand of rattan). This was intended to tell the President that we gave him five days to start addressing our demands.
The message we sent requires urgent response since it is a matter of life and death. We are calling on the President, the commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the chief executive of the land, to pull out the Army battalions now deployed in Mindanao and send them to the barracks. These troops, along with paramilitary groups, are sowing fear in Mindanao, evicting indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands to pave the way for the entry and operations of foreign agroindustrial ventures.
We are also calling for the speedy resolution of 103 extrajudicial killings, the dismissal of all trumped-up charges lodged against those who oppose destructive foreign agroindustrial projects (such as large-scale mining and plantations) and against human rights defenders, and the revocation of Department of Education Memorandum No. 221, which has given the military a justification to pitch camps in schools.
We have a lot more demands but we only cite a few lest they would be thrown into the dustbin of disregard.
But until now, we have received no response. We were even ordered to vacate Mendiola after just a night of encampment. We left the premises of Malacañang which boasts of a gate which is ironically named Mendiola Peace Arch.
We left the Mendiola Peace Arch with images of military abuses painfully lingering in our minds. But we also left our kodaw on the gates of Malacañang, albeit we knew that these would be removed.
We are still in Manila fighting for the realization of our demands, even as we find spiteful the earlier statement of Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. that there are no grounds for us to say that there are human rights abuses under the Aquino administration. Equally upsetting is what the Department of Justice recently told us: that it can do nothing about the trumped-up charges and extrajudicial killings which, it said, are beyond its jurisdiction.
We didn’t go to Manila just for nothing!
—FR. CHRISTOPHER ABLON, IFI,
ng Mindanao 2014,
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