UNHCR: Presence of NGOs, religious needed in besieged lumad communities

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Sep 20 2015 01:19 AM | Updated as of Sep 20 2015 09:19 AM

Peter Deck, UNCHR head of office for Mindanao, interviews lumad evacuees in Tandag City, Surigao Sur after the September 1 murders of Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Datu Juvelo Sinzo in Diatagon, Lianga town.

Inaccurate depiction of the violence and killings in Mindanao lumad communities prevents actions to find, apprehend and prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations, according to a September 15 Bulletin of the UN Refugee Center for the Philippines.

The agency, which falls under the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also warned the practice by some sectors, including state security actors, could only spark further violence in regions that have seen more than 5,000 lumad fleeing their homes.

The report, signed by The Protection Cluster Philippines, said the UN, civil society groups and religious groups like the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) should increase presence in the besieged lumad communities.

Calling it ''protection by presence,'' the agency encouraged groups that have long worked in lumad communities and know the situation on the ground.

The report said 13 lumad leaders and community members, including children, have been killed from March to September 2015 in 5 incidents of extra- judicial killings and 4 massacres.

It cited at least 6 incidents of forced evacuations from the provinces of Sarangani, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, and Surigao Del Sur that involved more than 4,000 individuals, mostly indigenous peoples.

The report said: ''They fled their homes and communities, out of fear of death and military presence in their lands. At present, over 5,000 IPs are known to remain displaced and many communities at risk of displacement.''


In its findings and recommendations, the agency said:

''Some members of the community, including security actors have blamed the killings on the NPAs or on internal conflict in the IP communities. This inaccurate depiction of the violence and killings in IP communities delays and prevents actions by the responsible authorities to find, apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators, which only contributes to more potential violence.”

The report added:

“Respect for the rule of law should be upheld by ensuring that the perpetrators of these killings causing displacement will be apprehended and prosecuted according to the law of the Philippines so persons can return to their communities without fear of future attack and feel protected by military. “

“The intervention of the national authorities is necessary. The PNP (Philippine National Police) stated in a community meeting that they do not have the weapons to disarm the armed groups, only the AFP can do it. The Governor has stated that the armed groups do not operate according to law and need to be disarmed and disbanded by the AFP to avoid further attacks and displacement in these communities.”

The agency's report followed a fact-finding investigation by Peter Deck, UNCHR head of office for Mindanao. Deck interviewed lumad evacuees in Tandag City, Surigao Sur after the September 1 murders of Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Datu Juvelo Sinzo in Diatagon, Lianga town.

Samarca, the head of Alcadev, an award-winning lumad school, was found dead in his Alcadev room with a gunshot wound on his chest and his neck slit.

Teachers and students said paramilitary forces called the Magahat-Bagani held Samarca while they ordered the rest of the school population to the village center. There, in full view of hundreds of residents herded out of their homes, paramilitary forces shot dead Campos, the head of local lumad organization MAPASU and Sinzo, the head datu in a neighboring community.


Witnesses have identified at least three men in the killings. They said soldiers encamped in the village and its school for two days. Troops pulled back to nearby hills on August 31.

The residents and the governor of Surigao Sur contend soldiers did nothing while paramilitary forces rampaged through the village. They have also accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines of organizing, arming, training and mobilizing the paramilitary forces, described by Gov. Johnny Pimentel as former communist rebels and some lumad leaders linked to mining interests.

AFP officials have denied the charge. President Benigno Aquino III also insists there is no campaign of oppression against the lumad.

The military initially said a tribal war caused the killings. It disavowed any knowledge about the paramilitary forces but said some lumad have declared war on ''communists.''

Then the AFP hosted in Camp Aguinaldo three datus who claimed rebels killed the men in Lianga, even while insisting that the three men's organizations were part of the communist ''shadow government'' in the hinterlands.

The Surigao del Sur governor said one of the men in Camp Aguinaldo had been accused of killing another lumad leader last year.

Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have spoken out against the killings and launched separate investigations.

The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights Chair has refuted military claims of a tribal war, calling the Lianga deaths ''extra-judicial killings.''

After a hearing where survivors of massacres spoke, CHR Chito Gascon also said said five men slain by soldiers in Pangatucan, Bukidnon could not have been New People's Army (NPA) guerrillas as one was a blind 78-year old man, two minors, all kin to two other victims.

The survivor, a 16-year old youth, said they had pleaded to be arrested instead but were killed one by one.

READ CHR: Lianga, Pangatucan deaths are 'extra-judicial killings'


The agency warned of increased human rights violations suffered by indigenous people (IP) communities in the provinces of Sarangani, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. It cited threats to life, killings, grave child rights violations, including maiming and attacks on schools and political thought.

The military has accused the Lumad alternative schools of being training grounds for future rebels. It has cited lessons on government neglect of the lumad population and criticism of the military anti-insurgency campaign as proof of the school's communist leanings.

''The indigenous peoples are the most marginalized and vulnerable population in the Philippines and require special protection under Philippine and international human rights law. For this reason, the Government, the UN, NGOs and all human rights actors have a responsibility to act.''

The agency said the apprehension and prosecution of perpetrators of the killings is needed so “persons can return to their communities without fear of future attack and feel protected by military.”


The report said human rights violations against IPs include grave child rights violations of killing, maiming, and attacks on schools.

''Moreover, the IP communities are being targeted for organizing against the government and corporations on their ancestral lands. This is perceived as political actions supporting ''communist (NPA) ideology''. This report does not include all incidents against IPs in Mindanao.

The agency reported these incidents in Surigao Sur:

- 09 August, 84 families (estimated 430 persons) were displaced when members of Bagani, a paramilitary group, interrogated and harassed villagers including children in Sitio Nalindog, Barangay Bolhoon municipality of San Miguel.

- 28 August, in the neighboring village of Siagao, where around 332 families (estimated 1,660 persons) fled their homes when known members of the Bagani lobbed a grenade in one of the houses in the village and killed two peasant brothers.

- 1 September, another displacement of around 573 families (estimated 3,000 persons) occurred in various sub-villages in the municipalities of Lianga, Marihatag, San Agustin, San Miguel, and Tago. Civilians were harassed, including students and teachers, and three tribal leaders were killed in front of community members. A cooperative and school buildings were also burned. Residents interviewed stated they were threatened with death and burning of schools if they did not leave their village.

The UNHCR report said:

“… students interviewed, mostly between 13-16 years old said that they can easily recognize who are the regular forces of AFP and who are the paramilitary. They provided specific details of their uniforms. They described how during the time that the paramilitary group was in their community, the AFP were only 50-100 meters away. The Governor has called for the disbanding of all paramilitary groups supported by the AFP since 2009.

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