North Cotabato 2nd district Rep. Nancy Catamco calls herself a "Diwata" -- a goddess -- of Mindanao's lumad peoples.
To the threatened indigenous people of Davao del Norte and surrounding provinces, however, she is a traitor. The chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Indigenous Peoples, Catamco, has launched a unique campaign to "rescue" internal refugees -- by delivering them to their tormentors.
Cops attack sanctuary of lumad conflict refugees in Davao City. Courtesy of Kilab Multimedia
Catamco, cops, and the Alamara paramilitary group stormed on July 23 the Haran Mission House in Davao City of United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP).
The sprawling compound has served for 21 years as sanctuary for lumad fleeing military abuses in Talaingod and Kapalong towns, Davao del Norte.
Fifteen refugees were hurt when truncheon-wielding cops forced down the gate of the UCCP Haran compound and destroyed the temporary shelters of IP folk. Lumad resistance and the intervention of Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte prevented greater violence.
The raid occurred as children were busy with informal science lessons.
Cops summoned to Davao City by the chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Indigenous Peoples to "rescue" lumad fleeing military abuses in their mountain communities injured 15 of the displaced folk and destroyed a number of temporary shelters. Photo by Karlos Manlupig
The tension lasted for the better half of a day and included a chase of a mother and daughter “rescued” by state security forces who had snipped through the sanctuary’s barbed wire fence. The rescued pair and their chasing patriarch were the only ones who decided to stay with regional social workers.
Catamco was in the thick of the disturbance, the third incident since she started visiting lumad refugees, on invitation of the Save Our Schools network.
The UCCP bishops condemned “the illegal and violent conduct,” including the “brutal” beating of pastors by cops with truncheons and steel shields.
“We are outraged at this show of excessive force more so because the PNP did not have any warrant to enter and search the Church facility, which is a private property,” the UCCP said at a pressconference.
Church leaders accused Catamco of failing to heed the demands of the Ata-Manobo for an end to military presence near their schools and homes.
On her first visit, lumad – thinking Catamco was an ally of militant lawmakers who had publicized their plight – gave her a warm welcome.
The atmosphere turned stormy on the second day of dialogue, when she started insulting lumad leaders, demanding their immediate return to Talaingod and Kapalong.
Accusing Catamco and cops of bad faith, UCCP said: “Just a few hours prior to the violent incident, the Church facilitated a dialogue with DSWD and NCIP, and came up with resolutions that they would just attend to the needs of the women and children. But even while the resolution was being firmed out, the PNP terrorized the evacuees with their presence in full riot gear, the presence of paramilitary group ALAMARA, demolition team, fire trucks and military trucks, and then proceeded to destroy the gate and forcibly entered the church premises.”
The lumad and their supporters were ready for the storm because Catamco had earlier vowed she would make sure they returned to their mountain villages.
Her first encounter with the lumad at Haran was friendly. After a brief meeting in the company of Makabayan lawmakers, Catamco had promised to come back with officials of the Department of Social Word and Development, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Commission on Human Rights.
But she also arrived with Army generals, the very sector that lumad blame for their plight.
It was in the aftermath of that round when Catamco hurled her first vow to force the lumad back home -- where members of their tribe had been murdered, arrested, ambushed and where soldiers have taken over the only schools that have served the needs of lumad children.
On Thursday, Catamco flexed her political muscle.
The lawmaker had earlier claimed the existence of the Alamara paramilitary needed to be verified. She arrived with the very militia whose existence she had disavowed.
Lumad internal refugees and visiting kin hug at the Haran compound in Davao City. Photo by Ace R. Morandante/davaotoday.com
No less than the refugee parents of the Alamara forces confirmed their identities and affiliation. Among the Alamara members was Perut Malibato of Sitio Patel, Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte.
It was a tearful reunion between Perut and his parents, Celia and Anayak, and younger brother, Alvin.
Refugee leaders allowed Perut to talk with his family. He tried to convince them to return. They refused, reiterating the condition that earlier angered Catamco – they would return only if systems of reforms guarantee a halt to military abuses.
Duterte agreed to escort Catamco on one more round of the sanctuary. Refugees were asked if they wanted to leave with her or stay on.
The representative wheedled another talk with lumad leaders, singling out Bai Bibyaon Bigkay, a woman Salugpungan leader who had led the welcome committee during Catamco’s first visit.
But Bai Bibyaon, the first woman council head of the Salugpungan, ripped into the congresswoman, accusing her of using guile to create a false picture of lumad forced by outside groups to become refugees.
Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte escorts Rep. Nancy Catamco to ask lumad internal refugees if they want to go home to their communities. Photo by Robinson Ninal
The tribal leader was referring to Catamco’s first dialogue, wherein she asked who among the lumad wanted to return home. Many hands were raised. But lumad said the agreement was premised on an end to militarization of their communities.
That angered Catamco who, in a second dialogue, warned that the datus in Haran were endangering their traditional leadership status by fleeing. Taking pride in her lumad grandparents, the congresswoman said lumad never abandon territory.
Audio tapes of the dialogues show Catamco wanting an immediate return of lumad to their communities. In contrast, she insisted that solutions to their complaints need to be processed.
In an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com, Catamco said the lumad refugees need to trust the government to resolve their problems, including the military generals she brought to the first few dialogues.
The lawmaker said she was only trying to help lumad and hinted they were being held against their will.
“They wanted pull out of military troops but that cannot be done immediately… there needs to be a process,” Catamco said.
Asked why she was insisting on a homecoming with no safety guarantees, Catamco said the military would assure the safety of the lumad.
But the military is accused of being the main tormentor of the lumad. SOS gave Catamco the data before she joined their fact-finding mission.
Across a swathe of Mindanao’s lushest lands, indigenous children are losing schools and homes. They are also losing parents, whether to the gun or to prison or to flight from threats and harassment.
Close to 3,000 indigenous children from border villages of Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, Bukidnon and the Agusan provinces are affected by the Department of Education delay in giving permits to their alternative schools.
The military often describes these small, private havens, mostly run by rural missionaries and other faith-based groups, as support infrastructure of communist rebels. The government has a novel solution to the problem.
“They want to embed soldiers and paramilitary forces in these institutions,” said Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of KATRIBU (Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas), which is part of the SOS network.
Rights violations against children in Mindanao increased from 23 incidents in 2013 to 64 last year, according to the Children’s Rehabilitation Center. In the first four months of 2015, the network has documented 19 incidents, involving thousands of children.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) reports that 23 indigenous leaders have been killed from October 2014 to June this year, in the Northern Mindanao region alone.
“That is almost three lives mercilessly put out every month,” said the the national inter-diocesan and inter-congregational organization that works with threatened lumad, indigenous peoples in Mindanao.