CHR, Lumad leaders hold dialogue on IP welfare in Mindanao

CHR, Lumad leaders hold dialogue on IP welfare in Mindanao

QUEZON CITY—The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) engaged Lumad leaders and representatives in a dialogue on Monday, 19 February 2018, concerning the welfare and grievances of Indigenous People (IPs) in Mindanao.

“Marami po sa kanila ay ang paniniwala ay sila ay under threat; dapat harapin natin yan (Many of them do feel that their lives are threatened; and that is something we must face),” said CHR Chair Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon in an interview after the dialogue at CHR Central Office.

Karapatan, Hustisya, and other representatives from various Lumad groups across Mindanao were present during the discussions. The group included human rights workers, teachers, farmers, and several Datus, who came to the CHR to air their grievances regarding the treatment of their people at the hands of the government, military, and paramilitary groups.

The group were met by CHR Chairperson Gascon, as well as CHR Commissioners Karen Gomez-Dumpit, Leah Tanodra-Armamento, and Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana.


Alleged abuses

Over the course of the two-hour dialogue, various Lumad leaders and victims vented out the alleged abuses that they and their fellow Indigenous People (IP) experience during the last few years.
Thousands of Lumads, the groups claim, are currently internally displaced due to the implementation of Martial Law and many indigenous cultural communities are suffering under the aggression of paramilitary groups active in the Mindanao Region.

A volunteer teacher from Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services, Inc. (CLANS) recounts how some of her fellow teachers for CLANS were being falsely charged with murder and frustrated murder over a clash between communist rebels and Marines, saying: “Masakit sa amin bilang kasama nilang mga teacher na may nangyari na ganoon, samantala wala naman silang ginawang masama. Yung mga ginawa namin ay ang pagturo sa aming kapwa mga Lumad para makapag-aral sila ng mabuti, para maka-aral sila nang walang bayad. (This pains us as fellow teachers that something like this happened because they did nothing wrong. All we did was try to teach our fellow Lumad so they have the opportunity to study well and for free).”

Other issues raised by the IP leaders include: allegations of food blockades by the military in evacuation centers around the region; trumped up charges against Lumad leaders and red tagging, where they were lumped together with members of the New People’s Army and other rebel groups; consequently, alleged practices of forcing Lumads to “surrender” to the government by forcing guns on them and taking advantage of their lack of literacy to get them to sign documents that they can neither read nor comprehend; the possibility of opening of their ancestral land to investors, and allegations of the militarization of their homes and communities.

Bridges of dialogue

Chairperson Gascon and Commissioner Gana, the focal commissioner on IP concerns, both reassured the Lumads that the CHR is regularly monitoring developments on these issues. They also committed to sending investigation teams, offering CHR’s legal assistance, financial assistance, and witness protection program to those who wish to apply for it.

“Patuloy po tayo mag-usap (We must continue to speak to each other),” said Chairperson Gascon, “We need to move from where we are to where we need to be, and the only way we can move from where we are to where we need to be is if we work together, if we help each other build solidarity. That’s what we need to do. In times of crisis, it’s important that we don’t build walls between us. We build bridges.” ###