Truth the biggest casualty of APEC

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Nov 13 2015 07:07 PM

Manilakbayan 2015 contingents march towards Mendiola banging their "bangkakawan" to protest their early eviction from Liwasang Bonifacio. Photo by Kilab Multimedia

"They want us out because they want to hide the truth."

Eufemia Cullamat knows something about truth. She saw a militia band execute her brother, Dionel Campos, and her uncle, Datu Juvello Sinzo, on the day the family would have buried their father.

"They are afraid of the truth," she said on the way back to Liwasang Bonifacio after a meeting with Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada on vacating the Lumad camp in Liwasang Bonifacio.

"They want us out because they need to show the world the Philippines is a peaceful country," Eufemia said.

"I can tell them the truth. My 13-year-old niece and her brother saw their father murdered. I saw small children screaming and running in panic as the paramilitary strafed the air around us. Three hundred people can tell them the truth."

Eufemia said they are "being driven out like wild dogs," because "PNoy cannot afford for the truth to come out."

Like the fact that on the eve of APEC, men believed to be government forces torched yet another branch of Alcadev, an award-winning school hounded as supposed training and logistics hub for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)/New People’s Army (NPA).

Dr. Naty Castro of Karapatan's Caraga office said the act of arson, by three men with their faces covered, came a week after soldiers asked the villagers to burn their school. The military officers called Alcadev "a source of trouble" in the community.

PERMIT GRANTED, RESCINDED

Estrada had initially given the Lumad a permit to stay until November 23. But he blinked when President Benigno Aquino III sent officials from the Presidential Security Group, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

At a press conference explaining his decision, Estrada said the Philippines needs to show the world its best face during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.

"We need to show the world the Philippines is a peaceful, safe and clean nation," said the former president. "We must protect the image of the country."

The Lumad said Estrada, in so many words, told them his hands are tied.

"The LGU is always under the national government," Datu Kaerlan Fanagel quoted him as saying.

The government has a very strange concept of peace. Beyond lip service, it has not moved to solve the problems hounding the Lumad.

On the contrary, Aquino continues to defend the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) although his own Liberal Party (LP) fellows have exposed the complicity of the military in the killings of the Lumad.

Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel has repeatedly said the AFP created a monster by recruiting and arming former rebels into a militia funded by mining corporations, a model approved by Aquino.

Senator TG Guingona pointed out that even as he was holding hearings in Tandag City, where the Lumad have an evacuation camp, soldiers were sighted in the company of the paramilitary they claimed not to know, still wreaking havoc on Lumad communities.

The Chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Chito Gascon, said at least two massacres of Lumad were clear cases of "extra-judicial killings".

He cited the Lianga massacre, where militia also murdered Emerito Samarca, the head teacher of Alcadev, an award-winning school for Lumad youth, and the massacre in Pangantucan, Bukidnon of a family of five men, including a blind 70-year-old patriarch and two minors.

Lianga witnesses identified two of the killers. They have filed a case against them. Yet these men continue to operate in the company of soldiers. The PNP cannot move against them because they fear the suspects' protectors.

Parishioners of the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran view posters of Lumad killed and other victims of rights abuses under President Benigno Aquino III's government. Photo by Betty Romero

JUSTIFYING MURDER

Aquino wants to hide the Lumad's truth. At the House of Representatives, military officers and a datu identified by the Lianga killers as their boss, peddled their version of the truth.

Datu Jumar Bucales of San Isidro, Lianga argued that murder is justifiable when a teacher "poisons the Lumad mind" by notions of justice and environmental protection.

The former head of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) blamed the victims, saying they were killed because their communities refused to listen when told to give up the rebels among them.

Rep. Nancy Catamco even suggested that an indigenous ritual would make murder a legitimate action.

The military insists rebel recruitment of the Lumad is the cause of their problems. The military says mining -- and plantations -- will be the salvation of Lumad. It sees opposition to these projects as proof of rebellion.

Its militia, who are rewarded with mines and plantations, believe there is no difference between an armed guerrilla and a civilian who may share some of the positions espoused by the underground leftist movement. When a civilian dies, the military says it is the NPA's fault -- for having brainwashed them.

This is the truth that needs to be covered up in time for APEC. Aquino cannot afford to jeopardize military aid that is hinged on the government's fulfillment of commitments to uphold human rights.

There is also Michelle Campos' truth.

"We will fight for the land handed down by our ancestors. We will fight for our schools. We will fight for the right to decide how best to live our lives," she told supporters at the Lumad's gathering last night in Liwasang Bonifacio.

"For these, they kill us," Campos said. "I tell you, it is an honor to die for these ideas."

If there is anything history tells us, it is that the truth will out. As international delegates to a people's summit gather in the Philippines, the Lumad will assert their right to reveal the price they pay for the dirty ties between mine and plantation owners, active and retired military, and top officials of the government.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.