A Letter to President Aquino on the intensifying human rights violations in Mindanao - Amihan peasant women
His Excellency Benigno C. Aquino III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace, JP Laurel St.
San Miguel, Manila Philippines
“My government will be sincere in dealing with all the peoples of Mindanao. We are committed to a peaceful and just settlement of conflicts, inclusive of the interests of all – may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian.”
Dear Mr. President,
Greetings of peace!
Mr. President, the statement above was one of your promises to the people whom you referred to as “your boss” during your inaugural speech last June 30, 2010. You assured “your boss” of change through good governance. Your presidential term has yet to come to an end leaving the challenge to the 2016 presidentiables to continue the “legacy” of “Daang Matuwid.” You proudly stated in your last SONA, “Mga Boss, nanggaling tayo sa sitwasyon kung saan tila nababalot ng kadiliman ang ating bansa; ni hindi natin masigurong may liwanag pang paparating. Binabati na tayo ng bukang-liwayway ng katarungan at pagkakataon.” Such vision however, seems to be a far-off dream, worse it has become a nightmare for the Lumad communities in Mindanao.
We, from AMIHAN, a federation of peasant women in the country, decided to write you a letter regarding the disturbing massacre of three Lumad leaders and the harassment against teachers, students, and communities causing displacements of hundreds of families with almost 2, 000 individuals in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. According to the reports of the human rights group Karapatan, and based on the witnesses in the community, the 36th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and the paramilitary group Magahat/Bagani forces were the perpetrators.
On September 1, at around 4am in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, members of Magahat forces, AFP’s paramilitary group opened fire on Dionel Campos, his cousin Aurelio Sinzo, and Belen Itallo in the presence of community members. Campos and Sinzo died instantly while Itallo managed to survive. That same morning, Emerico Samarca’s body was found in one of the classrooms in the school compound of ALCADEV (Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development). His body was seen with his throat slit open, with the cut that ranged from ear to ear, his face bruised and almost unrecognizable.
On August 30, two days before the incident, about 40 soldiers of the 36th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (IBPA), the 75th IBPA, Special Forces, and known members of the Magahat-Bagani Force occupied the function hall and parts of the school grounds of the ALCADEV in Sitio Han-ayan, Brgy. Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. The military and paramilitary forces threatened the school's faculty members, staff, and the community members that they will be massacred, unless they leave in two days. As residents and teachers were leaving Han-ayan, armed men took and detained Samarca, who was last seen by the residents tied around his neck, hands, and feet. On August 31, the community cooperative store of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU) was burned down by the paramilitary group and fired indiscriminately around the community.
Both Campos and Sinzo are members of MAPASU in which the former is the chairperson, while Samarca is the executive director of ALCADEV, an alternative learning system especially designed to provide secondary education to indigent indigenous youth – the Manobo, Banwaon, Higanon, Talaandig, and Mamanwa of Surigao del Norte and Sur and Agusan Norte and Sur. Since the establishment of ALCADEV in 2004, it has served the interests of poor indigenous families that cannot afford to send their children to formal schools. It is ironic however, that at the same time, rights abuses against its staff and the Lumads have intensified due to the accusations that it is managed by the NPA.
We believe that the brutal killings and harassment in the community is being conducted because of the strong opposition of the Lumads and the community in the intrusion of large-scale mining companies and transnational corporations that will cause the destruction of their ancestral lands, their livelihood, their culture, and their lives. It is alarming that militarization has always been the answer of the government to the legitimate call of the indigenous people for their rights to land.
Even human rights workers and advocates are falsely charged with criminal offenses. We are talking about the 22 leaders of Church groups, people’s organization, human rights workers, and victims of human rights violations in Socsksargen (South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos City) who were charged with attempted murder in relation to an encounter between members of the New People’s Army and the 73rd IBPA in Brgy. Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani. They were also charged with violation of RA 7610 in relation to the evacuation of more than 400 B’laan who left their homes due to the military operations and human rights violations in their communities. They were the individuals who assisted the evacuees and those who participated in the fact-finding mission conducted in the area.
Your declaration in 2010 that:
“Palalakasin at palalaguin natin ang bilang ng ating kasundaluhan at kapulisan, hindi para tugunan ang interes ng mga naghahari-harian, ngunit para proteksyunan ang mamamayan. Itinataya nila ang kanilang buhay para mayroong pagkakataon sa katahimikan at kapayapaan sa sambayanan.”
has clearly been another broken promise, as the increasing military and paramilitary forces in the countryside especially in Mindanao continuously serve the interests of only a few ruling elite benefitting from the riches of the island that is supposedly owned and enjoyed by the majority of the people.
Mr. President, at the start of your presidential term, you mentioned:
“Sa mga nang-api sa sambayanan, wala akong karapatan na limutin ang inyong mga kasalanan… Ang sinumang nagkamali ay kailangang humarap sa hustisya. Hindi maaaring patuloy ang kalakaran ng walang pananagutan at tuloy na pang-aapi.”
We firmly believe that immediate action should be taken to end the cruelty in Lumad communities. Justice should be served to the victims of the violations.
We, in AMIHAN, in behalf of the Lumad, our fellow Filipinos, appeal to your honorable office to heed the voice of your boss and take immediate action:
1. Immediately pull-out the 36th, 75th IB-PA, 73rd IBPA and Special Forces from the Lumad communities and dismantle the paramilitary group Magahat/Bagani Force.
2. Create an independent body to investigate on the killings and other human rights violations perpetrated by the 36th, 75th IB-PA, 73rd IBPA and its paramilitary forces, the Magahat/Bagani Force.
3. Persecute the perpetrators of the extrajudicial killing and other human rights violations committed against the residents of Han-ayan and Km. 16 in Bgy. Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur and in B’laan communities.
4. Withdraw the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, which continues to victimize innocent and unarmed civilians.
5. Respect and observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it is a signatory and party to all the major Human Rights instruments;
Very truly yours,
(SGD) ZENAIDA SORIANO
Address: 80-A Mapang-akit St.
Barangay Pinyahan, Quezon City
E-mail address: email@example.com
The RMP is a national organization, inter-congregational ang inter-diocesan in character, of women and men religious, priests and lay. We live and work with the peasants (farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples and agricultural workers).