Indigenous communities from different regions of Mindanao are calling for international support in their fight to defend their ancestral land from military encroachment and harassment. The Benigno Aquino government has sent thousands of its troops to rural areas as part of its counterinsurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan. The militarization has resulted in the destruction of indigenous (lumad) livelihoods, division of their communities, disruption of children’s education, forced evacuations, amongst many other human rights violations. Throughout the region, the Lumad traveled for hours and days to go to Davao City to evacuate and make a political statement and expose the human rights violations being carried out by the military. To read more, scroll down below to the letter from Salugpongan International.
The Lumads of Mindanao are in urgent need of our moral, material and financial support. To find out more about how you can get involved, please join us at our next Panaghiusa meeting on Thursday, March 5th, 7pm at Rosewood United Methodist Church (4101 Rosewood Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90004).
To make an online donation via Paypal or credit card, click here for the Rosewood UMC site and then click on the “Donate” button under “Online Giving” (on the bottom right). Please specify “Advocacy Ministry – Panaghiusa bakwet” as designated beneficiary and send a confirmation email to Luis Buktaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Defend the Ancestral Land! Oppose Oplan Bayanihan!
This is the call of different indigenous peoples from Mindanao from different regions in Mindanao who are currently experiencing intense militarization in their communities and ancestral land. They have united and walked for hours or even days to go to Davao City in order to defend their ancestral land and their future.
Oplan Bayanihan is a counter-insurgency program under Aquino’s government. As the government sends thousands of military troops to the rural areas, Lumad communities are the first to be affected by the militarization. Right now, there are 55 battalions deployed in Mindanao. In addition to this, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is training lumad paramilitary groups as part of a divide-and-rule strategy. This has resulted to many human rights violations, divisions in their communities, destruction of their livelihoods, and forced evacuations. Oplan Bayanihan has been a great obstacle for the Manobos to carry out their daily lives, practice their livelihoods, and exercise their right to self determination.
One of the main targets are the schools that the Lumad built for their communities. For many years, the schools have helped in providing the social services that the government have neglected to provide for the Lumad communities. The schools teach the children read and write, help develop their agricultural production, train health workers in the communities, and teach the children about the history of their struggle to protect their ancestral land. However, these schools are being tagged by the military as schools of the New People’s Army. The military have occupied some of the schools or have build detachments close by. There are many cases of harassment of students and teachers, such as the incident in Sitio Nasilaban where soldiers fired shots indiscriminately around the school. In one of the schools in Kapalong, the paramilitary group Alamara blocked the teachers from going back to the school and detained one of the students for one week, accusing him of being a member of the NPA.
The Manobo’s struggle against militarization have been going on for some time. In April of last year, more than 1300 manobos evacuated their communities to call for an end to militarization in their communities. After a month they were able to successfully call for the military to pull out from the communities. However, two months after they went back to their homes, the military returned. From then till now, more human rights violations and harassment cases occurred. In Agusan del Sur, there were multiple killings of Lumad leaders who are trying to protect their land from mining companies. This is why last month, hundreds of Lumads, both from Talaingod and Agusan del Sur left their homes, their farms and their livelihoods to live in makeshift tents, in order to voice out their concerns. For them, their evacuation or “bakwet” is not an act of cowardice or retreat. Instead, it is a way for them to show their unity and strength. It is their way of fighting to defend their ancestral land and the future of their children.
We in Salugpongan International recognize the importance of education for the Lumad communities to advance their right to self determination. However, this cannot be achieved while they are constantly harassed by the military. We commend the Manobos for taking action and standing up for their rights. It is important for us in the international community to provide moral and material support to the bakwet. As they are separated from their homes and their livelihoods, they have a lot of material needs as they such as slippers, food, drinks, toiletries. More importantly, we can help strengthen their voice and their morale by showing our solidarity with them and help pressure the government to stop the militarization of the communities.
We call on everyone to send their messages of support, to hold information and fundraising events in order to show solidarity for our Lumad brothers and sisters.