‘Lumad’ in the crosshairs
The lumad, or members of indigenous communities, in Surigao del Sur—the Manobo, in particular—are suddenly finding themselves in the crosshairs or guns’ viewfinders. Whose? Why?
In the past days, the Inquirer has continuously come out with reports, plus an editorial yesterday, on the plight of the Manobo, two of whose members and a much-loved educator were murdered last Sept. 1.
Dead were Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, chair of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu); and Bello Sinzo, a Mapasu member. Campos and Sinzo were gunned down allegedly by paramilitary groups in the presence of other Manobo in Lianga, while Samarca was found dead with stab wounds and his throat slit in an Alcadev classroom.
At a gathering arranged by the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Manila last Monday, survivors, victims and eyewitnesses of this tragedy spoke of their harrowing experiences and said their persecutors were members of a paramilitary group. They said they were being tagged as sympathizers of the communist New People’s Army (NPA). Does that make them fair game? One young Manobo recounted how he was grilled on whether the insurgents were training them how to handle firearms, what they were being taught, etc. And oh, if they were made to sing the Marxist hymn “Internationale.” I was tempted to ask: “In German or Filipino?”
I was not born yesterday; such suspicions, accusations and the resulting tragedies are not new. How many such bloody cases have I covered in the past, how many times have I gotten myself in the crosshairs? But that’s another story. Military/paramilitary groups, even so-called “lost commands” with fancy names, would go after insurgents while hapless remote communities were caught in the crossfire or in the battle of ideologies. The way things are, militarization, evacuation, hamletting, etc. are not things of the past.
Let me mention here that the Benedictine Sisters and St. Scholastica’s College-Manila, which the sisters run, have partnered, through a memorandum of agreement, with lumad schools in Marihatag and Han-ayan in Surigao del Sur. Over the years, sisters, faculty members and students have been going there for exposure, outreach, seminars and teacher training. Naturally, the Benedictine Sisters expressed concern over the tragic events and hosted the Manobo who came to Manila to air their grievances.
So what prompted the killings? Who slew the three men, and for what motives? If they are not government forces, where do they come from and who are arming them?
According to the witnesses, the armed and masked men who barged into their community (and into a wake at that) and herded them to a basketball court a kilometer away were members of the Magahat-Bagani. These men killed Campos and Sinzo in their presence. These men, they said, raided Alcadev and burned it.
If it were mere suspicion of sympathizing with the NPA, why kill the two men, and in such a brutal manner? Several gunshot wounds for Campos and Sinzo and a slit throat and stabs for Samarca. I asked a witness if there was a recent encounter between the military and the NPA, and the answer was no. So this couldn’t have been a case of retaliation.
Let me recall the massacre in Lupao, Nueva Ecija, in the late 1980s, when the military opened fire on a village after the head of their patrol group, a new graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, took a bullet in the head. That bullet came from the clump of village huts in the distance where the NPA insurgents were spending the day. The military fired back, many villagers were killed and maimed, and the insurgents abandoned the villagers and ran away to safety in the Caraballo mountains.
I shed hot, angry tears when we (media and church people) arrived in the barrio and saw the local folk with white mourning bands on their foreheads, the smoldering embers and cooking vessels in disarray near a clump of bamboo. One young girl’s arm had been blown off. I still have her photo. Where is she now?
So who was I angry at? Ask me. As I said earlier, I wasn’t born yesterday.
But here is a big factor in the tension to which we cannot turn a blind eye: the presence of huge mining and logging operations in the proximity of the lumad ancestral domain.
Surigao del Sur is in the Caraga region in northeastern Mindanao. The region is rich in natural resources but among the country’s poorest. It is home to big logging and mining concessions. According to Caraga Network Campaign, almost half of the operating mines in the country are in Caraga. Conflicting interests and the lumad communities’ resistance to encroachment into their ancestral land result in tensions. And so, one may conclude that where there’s gold, there are guns.
The network adds that among the most threatened are lumad community schools responding to the need for literacy for children under the Department of Education’s Alternative Literacy System. Sadly, these schools are vilified as “NPA schools,” or even illegal. Students and teachers are subjected to questioning and even detained at checkpoints.
Armed groups operating in the area—military, paramilitary, communists, “lost commands,” bandits and private armies—are often the cause of the indigenous people’s woes. I say: Back off, stay away! Whose interests and ideologies are you protecting, anyway?
Asked Sophocles: “Who is the victim, who the slayer?”
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