In the saga of the Philippine Lumad, the indigenous peoples of Mindanao staving off the theft of their ancestral lands, many fantastic claims and suggestions have been heard from the government.
The most outrageous statements have come from officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and their commander-in-chief.
There is no campaign against the Lumad, said President Benigno Aquino III, who wants the Lumad out of Liwasang Bonifacio before the arrival of APEC summit delegates.
READ: Lumad hold fast, defy orders to dismantle camps.
Sixty of them, including 10 children, have been killed under his watch. Yet, to Aquino, who has brushed aside mounting charges of human rights violations by the military, only criminals need to fear the AFP.
Military officers and the datus who support the militia they train initially said the NPA is to blame for the killings. When identities of the killers are brought up, they shift and say the NPA is to blame because they brainwash the Lumad into becoming supporters.
But nothing has come close to the proposition uttered today in the House of Representatives hearing led by Rep. Nancy Catamco of North Cotabato, who prides herself in being a goddess to the Lumad and whose idea of saving them is to send an armed force to wrest them from sanctuary.
READ: Lumad goddess storms sanctuary of threatened IPs
With Catamco throwing leading questions, some Manobo datu or chieftains gave a novel justification for the killing on September 1 of Emerito Samarca, the head teacher of an award-winning school for Lumad youth.
Samarca’s students found him sprawled in his room at Alcadev, in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, with a bullet wound in his chest and a throat slit from side to side. The children discovered his body a few minutes after witnessing the execution of Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo by paramilitary forces.
The militia had earlier forced Alcadev’s entire population out of the school compound, but held back Samarca.
Here is impunity in its full glory. Here are government-approved “leaders” and a legislator making a case for the killing of a teacher.
His crime: supposedly “poisoning the minds of students”.
Catamco had tried her best to portray Alcadev, an award-winning alternative school for Lumad youth, which has earned fame for the academic achievements of its students and for improving farm yields in the Andap Valley, as a nursery for rebels.
Catamco: “Why was Samarca killed? Was he killed through the magahat?”
Datu Jumar Bucales of San Isidro, Lianga: “Siya ang naglalason sa mga tao (He poisoned the people).”
Catamco: “Iyan ba ang rason, dahil siya ay may nagawang kasalanan sa tribo, dahil inapakan niya ang kultura ng tribo sa pagtuturo ng isang ideolohiya (Is that the reason, because he sinned against the tribe and trampled on tribal culture by teaching an ideology)?”
Bucales: “Iyan ang rason, kasi iyong mga graduate ng ALCADEV pumupunta sa kilusan (Yes, because the graduates of ALCADEV choose to support the movement).”
You would think a legislator would recognize the fact that the Constitution and the penal code of the country ban murder.
Instead, Catamco tried to frame murder as an acceptable act under Lumad customary law, suggesting that the decision came under the auspices of a Lumad ritual.
Your lands or death
Bucales answered in the negative. And then the former chair of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) said former rebels among the Lumad may have undertaken the ritual for the Magahat because the community would not heed their demands to stop supporting rebels.
This is the Philippines, supposed one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies.
This is the Philippines, where the military and Malacanang national security aides, and the entire coterie of paramilitary datus, have their own peace plan for the Lumad.
First, the Lumad should all decamp from displacement centers, leave Manila and return home, where they can settle their “problems” away from the prying eyes of media, rights groups and worried clergy and nuns of various churches.
Second, the Lumad must turn over all chieftains suspected of supporting the rebels. To the AFP and their minions, support for rebels means opposition to logging, mining and plantation spreads.
The statements made in Catamco’s hearing can be understood better in this context:
I met Marcial Belandres, a friend of Bucales and one of those datus linked to killings to Lumad leaders, during a Malacanang-organized meeting with bloggers.
He admits having killed former comrades. He and Nestor Apas, another pro-AFP datu who claims to be the leader of the Talaingod lumad, say the NPA has eroded their role as tribal leaders.
Probed on this claim, they complain that their people have started questioning their decisions.
Apas seems to think Lumad under his “domain” have no freedom to make up their minds on issues. This is the root of his charge that the evacuees at the Haran mission compound in Davao City are victims of trafficking.
It is a claim shared by Catamco. Apas is unabashedly pro-mining.
I once asked a military officer – a Lumad from Bukidnon – what happens when a datu’s constituents actually disagree with him and want to leave the community to escape military harassment. His answer: the datu must prevail.
A study sponsored by the German federal government and aided by the NCIP, noted many violations committed in process of getting “free, prior, informed consent” from owners of ancestral lands. It also pointed out that some datu – traditionally with powers to act for their communities, had exploited the process.
The study also hinted at what may be the real cause of Apas’ and Belandres’ complaints: pro-mining datu were at times thwarted by constituents’ preference for one-person-one-vote process.
This, the datu take to be the handiwork of the communist underground.
Apas and Belandres spent hours peddling their peace process.
Belandres, who believes he should be rewarded with rubber and palm oil plantations for his exploits, said only the AFP shall be allowed to witness the “peace pact.”
Asked what happens if the Lumad refuse to accede to demands that they allow “development” in their areas, Belandres said this should be blamed on the rebellious NPA datu.
Asked how datu known to coordinate with government officials on behalf of their communities could be guerrillas, Belandres said many rebels do not carry arms --but that does not mean they are innocent.
Belandres, Bucales and Rico Mapa, among others, are datu who command the paramilitary forces in Mindanao.
The military trains and supervises these militia – as the governor of Surigao del Sur has repeated in interview after interview, hearing after hearing, as senators and rights officials of the government acknowledge.
Datu Tungig Mansumay-at, a Talaingod Manobo, told me that with every incursion into Lumad communities, the military come with one message.
“The military tell us, ‘you, datu, when the NPAs are gone, since you are the one near the Pantaron range, you will get rich because we can facilitate projects under the government,” Datu Tungig said.
Soldiers also equate peace with the “surrender” of the Talaingod Lumad and their enrolment in the area militia called the Almara, he added.
President Aquino himself approved the funding of these militia by mining corporations.
The military peddles that same line of the datu in Catamco’s hearing. Catamco loves spouting off on customary law to justify attacks against restive Lumad.
There are no civilians. There are only pro-government forces – or rebels. People who oppose government-sanctioned plans are rebels. And rebels are fair game for killings.
This is the Philippines, APEC.