Stalked by Death: Indigenous Lumad killings continue in the Philippines

By Mark Ambay III

Stalked by Death: Indigenous Lumad killings continue in the Philippines

23rd December 2016

THE Lumad peoples of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao are
composed of 18 different ethnolingustic groups, including the B’laan,
Higaonon, Manobo and Subanon peoples. They are some of the poorest
people in the country despite the fact that their ancestral lands are
some of the most fertile lands on the island and much of the mineral
resources of Mindanao are located within their territories.

For years, the Lumad have been fighting an uphill battle to retain
control of their ancestral territories against corporate encroachment,
plunder and militarization. This struggle has resulted in hundreds, if
not thousands, of Lumad deaths, many falling victim to extrajudicial
killings perpetrated by military, paramilitary and private security
forces. Most of these abuses, however, have gone unpunished.

The new Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, the first one to hail
from Mindanao, is a known supporter of the fight against Lumad killings.
Despite the promise of change, death still haunts the Lumad of Mindanao.

Deadly history

When Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stepped down in 2010 after being president
of the Philippines for nine years, she left behind a bloody trail of
Lumad killings. Human rights organization Karapatan documented a total
of 89 cases of extrajudicial killings of indigenous peoples during the
Arroyo administration, and many of these were Lumad.

Her successor, Benigno Aquino III, had a worse human rights record–102
indigenous people were killed during his six-year term. According to a
shadow report submitted to the United Nations in late 2016, 87 of the IP
killings involved the Lumad. Some of the most gruesome killings of Lumad
happened during his term.

On Oct 18, 2012, soldiers under the 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the
Philippine Army (PA) strafed the house of B’laan anti-mining resistance
leader Daguil Capion in the village of Bong Mal in Tampakan town, South
Cotabato province. Capion was injured but managed to escape, but his
pregnant wife Juvy, 27, and their children Pop, 13, and Janjan,8, died
in the shooting incident. Soldiers also brought the remains of the dead
out of the house, an act which violated the B’laan culture. Among the
B’laans, it is considered taboo for non-relatives to disturb the remains
of the dead.

On the afternoon of Aug 18, 2015, Datu Herminio Samia, 70, his children
Joebert, 20, and Emir, 19, as well as his other relatives Elmer, 17, and
Norman, 13, were killed by members of the 1st Special Forces Battalion
in Sitio Mando, Brgy. Mendis, Pangantucan town in Bukidnon province.

According to the lone survivor of the incident, the 15-year-old son of
Datu Herminio, the five victims, who were members of the Manobo tribe,
were shot one by one by the soldiers.. The military, on the other hand,
claimed the five were all members of the New People’s Army and what
transpired was a legitimate armed encounter between the military and the
Communist rebels.

Paramilitary forces also went on a killing spree in the town of Lianga
in Surigao del Sur province. At 4am on Sept 1, 2015, members of the
Magahat-Bagani Force woke up residents of Diatagon village in Lianga,
Surigao del Sur and forced them to gather in the village square. There,
the Magahat-Bagani shot and killed Datu Dionel Campos, 41, and Datu
Jovello Sinzo, 69. Residents rushed to the house of Emerito Samarca, 54,
only to find him dead, as well.

Samarca was executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for
Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), an award-winning
non-government organization that ran a school for indigenous people in
the area. Campos and Sinzo were tribal chieftains who had repeatedly
called for the disbandment of paramilitary forces in the province.

Is change coming?

Duterte handily won the presidency with a promise of change, with his
predecessor’s administration widely seen as corrupt, inept, elitist, and
insensitive to the plight of ordinary Filipinos. In his inaugural
address, Duterte stated his inclination of inclusion of indigenous
peoples’ interests and agenda, especially the Lumad, in the peace
process with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Communist Party
of the Philippines (CPP), which is waging the longest-running Maoist
revolution in the world and which counts many Lumad as fighters of the
New People’s Army (NPA), its armed wing.

Yet nearly six months into his term as president, at least ten cases of
extrajudicial killings of Lumad have already taken place.

On July 12, three Higaonon men were shot and killed by private security
forces employed by Ramcar, Inc., in Brgy. Lupiagan, Sumilao, Bukidnon.
The killed Higaonons were members of the Sitio Inalsahan Indigenous
Peoples Organization, which has an ongoing land dispute with Ramcar, a
company engaged in cattle ranching. The site of Ramcar’s ranch is well
within the ancestral lands of the Higaonon of Lupiagan.

On July 15, only three days after the killings in Sumilao,
motorcycle-riding men fired at Bagobo tribal leader Hermie Alegre, 31,
in Tugbok district, Davao City. Alegre died en route to the hospital. He
was the chairperson of the Kahugpungan sa mga Lumad, an organization of
Bagobo people engaged in a land dispute with the religious group Jesus
Christ: A Name Above Every Name. The indigenous rights organization
PASAKA pointed to the 84th IBPA and the paramilitary group Alamara as
perpetrators of the shooting incident.

A pregnant Tigwahanon Manobo woman died and five others were injured
when members of the paramilitary group New Indigenous Peoples Army for
Reforms (NIPAR) rained bullets on Manobo people celebrating a wedding in
the village of Tibugawan, Brgy. Kawayan, San Fernando, Bukidnon on July
30, 2016. Butsoy Salusad, the head of NIPAR, has also been tagged as
behind the killing of Matigsalog tribal leader Jimmy Liguyon in 2012. An
arrest warrant was issued for his arrest, but police and military forces
have so far failed to enforce the warrant, and Salusad was even seen
together with military and police personnel on different occasions
despite the warrant.

Two Banwaon indigenous rights activists were also shot dead in separate
incidents on Aug 12, 2016, in the town of San Luis, Agusan del Sur.
Jerry Loyola, 42, went to answer a knock on the door of his house in
Brgy. Balit and was shot three times in the chest. He died instantly.
Not even an hour later, Jimmy Barosa of Brgy. Kasilayan was also shot in
the back while taking a rest in front of his house. Both attackers fled
on motorcycles afterwards. Both were members of the organization
Tagdumahan, which was actively campaigning against the entry of mining
and logging companies on Banwaon ancestral territories. Tagdumahan has
been tagged by the Philippine Army as supporters of the NPA and its
members had been repeatedly harassed by paramilitary groups.

In Compostela Valley, anti-mining activist Jimmy Liguyon was shot by two
motorcycle-riding men in the town Montevista in Compostela Valley
province on Oct, 10, 2016. Liguyon, a member of the Mandaya tribe,
managed to ask for help from bystanders and was rushed to the hospital
in Compostela town and then transferred to another hospital in Tagum
City, where he died the next day. Liguyon was an officer of the Comval
Farmers Association and actively campaigned against entry of the Agusan
Minerals and Petroleum Corporation in Compostela town, and was also a
critic of the human rights abuses committed by the 66th IBPA.

Three days later, another anti-mining Lumad activist was killed in
Compostela Valley province. Joselito Pasaporte, a member of the Mansaka
tribe and the group Panalipdan Youth, was shot dead in front of the
Mabini town cockpit by an unidentified gunman. Police investigators said
Pasaporte was number 6 on its druglist and his killing was most probably
drug-related. Human rights group Karapatan refuted police claims, saying
the military was behind the slaying of Pasaporte because of his stand
against large-scale mining.

No policy changes yet

Activists have lauded many of Duterte’s statements and proposed policy
changes as being pro-people, such as his criticism of American
intervention in Philippine affairs as well as appointment of several
progressives into his Cabinet. Yet they have also remained critical of
his other programs, such as his anti-drug war which has already claimed
the lives of at least 5,000 suspected drug users and criminals.

Duterte’s predecessor Aquino’s Internal Security Plan, Oplan Bayanihan,
has been widely criticized by different groups as the template of
state-sponsored terrorism and extrajudicial killings. Despite calls for
its scrapping, Duterte has yet to implement a new security plan in
exchange for the one he inherited. As such, human rights remains a
sensitive issue for the Duterte administration.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte walks with cadets of the Philippine
Military Academy during the Armed Forces anniversary celebration at Camp
Aguinaldo in Quezon city, Metro Manila Dec 21. Pic: Reuters

“Human rights violations in Mindanao continue to rise amidst the peace
process,” said Barug Katungod Mindanao in a statement.

Extrajudicial killings of Lumad and other activists are being done
“through the continued implementation of Oplan Bayanihan and in the
guise of community peace and development program (COPD),” it also added.

In addition, some see Duterte’s pronouncements as just talk, with no
actual policy changes being implemented. Despite his statement regarding
putting a stop to the proliferation of paramilitary groups in the
country, especially in Mindanao, no paramilitary group has been
dismantled and disbanded.

Until and unless Duterte follows through his promises of change with
concrete action and scrapping of government policies such as Oplan
Bayanihan, the killings of the Lumad peoples of Mindanao will continue.