Displaced Lumad nix resettlement; vow no surrender of ancestral lands

Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Oct 08 2015 12:05 PM | Updated as of Oct 08 2015 08:05 PM

''I will help you get the justice and peace that you seek so that you can all go back home.''

Senator Teofisto ''TG'' Guingona III gave this promise to 3,000 lumad evacuees from Lianga, Surigao del Sur at the start of hearings into the September 1 murders of two lumad leaders and a teacher of an alternative school for indigenous children of the Andap Valley.

Guingona, a member of President Benigno Aquino III's Liberal Party, said the arrest of 30 paramilitary forces – three of them identified by witnesses – is a requirement for the return home of the evacuees. He nixed suggestions offered by the military that their presence in the besieged communities would ensure the lumad's safety.

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Sen. Teofisto Guingona III says authorities need to go after the paramilitary killers of two lumad leaders and a school head in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Photo courtesy of Davao Today

''I don't think it's a matter of pulling out the troops, I think it's a matter of catching those who have done the murder. The murderers are here; they're roaming around. They won't go back, even if you pull out the troops. You won't go back also if you were in their place,'' he told reporters covering the Senate hearings.

A few days after Guingona gave his pledge, the head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) gave her own prescription for Lianga's besieged lumad.

''Resettlement'' is Secretary Corazon Soliman's offer to Lumad demanding the punishment and disbandment of paramilitary forces and the pullout of government troops from their villages and schools.

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DSWD Sec. Corazon Soliman engages an evacuee of the Surigao del Sur incident during her recent visit to the evacuation center Also in photo is DSWD-CARAGA Director Minda Brigoli. Photo courtesy of DSWD.

''We will coordinate with Governor Johnny Pimentel for a location where we can build core shelters for you, so that you will have better living conditions,'' Soliman told community leaders. ''You will be provided with your own houses worth P30,000 – P50,000, wherein you will have your own CR with water lines, more comfortable than your conditions here.''

The statement said it would also hire the IDPs, through cash for work, in the construction of their core houses. The DSWD's website posted on October 6 the gist of Soliman's message.

'WE WILL NOT SURRENDER'

The DSWD statement did not say resettlement would be permanent. But Lumad children and their elders nixed Soliman's suggestion.

From Cortes town, Surigao del Sur, where the 1st Mindanao-Wide Lumad Children's Congress is taking place, 13-year old Genasque Enriquez Jr. sent this message:

''Dili ko masugot og relocation bisan pa og temporary tungod kaya ng mahitabo madugay ang pagtubag sa demanda namong mga bakwit imbes ipadali ang kaso og pagpahawa sa military og pagdisarma ug pagbungkag sa tanan bandit paramilitary.” (I refuse relocation, even if temporary. This will just prolong our struggle instead of speeding up the cases and the removal of soldiers and the disarming and disbandment of all paramilitary bandits.)

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Genasque Enriquez Jr. marches in Cortes town, Surigao del Sur, where the 1st Mindanao-Wide Lumad Children's Congress is taking place.

From the Tandag City evacuation site, Michelle Campos, the oldest child of slain Lumad leader Dionel Campos told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview: ''We have no need for relocation.''

''We have our homes and our farms. We worked hard for these,'' she said in the Visayan language also used by the Lumad.

Resettlement diverts attention from accountability, said Michelle. ''Our demands are the arrest and punishment of my father's killer and the disbandment of these paramilitary bandit forces.''

She also said the Lumad want sanctions on the military ''handlers'' of the paramilitary groups and a halt to soldiers' occupation of Lumad schools and community centers.

To take up Soliman's offer would be to surrender the lush ancestral lands of the Andap Valley that is home to 22 communities once headed by Dionel , Michelle said.

''What they want is our surrender,'' she said. ''Because what they really want is for us to leave the land of our ancestors.''

''If that is their whole-of-nation approach, it means the whole-scale death of our people,'' Michelle said, referring to a counter-insurgency doctrine that subsumes the work of civilian agencies to military pacification goals.

The offer to relocate, she added, is proof that Mr. Aquino's government has no intention of addressing mounting human rights violations in Lumad communities.

'THEY WANT OUR LAND'

The Lumad of Sitio Han-ayan, the site of Alcadev, have spent a decade building a relatively prosperous community in an area neglected by the government.

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This landscape of the lush farmlands of Alcadev greeted slain head teacher Emerito Samarca from his room. Photo courtesy of Alcadev.

The road to their village is still inaccessible except by logging trucks and the hardy habal-habal, a motorized makeshift taxi.

Until Alcadev and the Tribal Community School managed by the Han-ayan Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao Sur (TRIFPPS) elementary school, most Lumad children made do without education because a round trip to the nearest government school costs more than the local daily minimum wage.

Han-ayan is now a ghost town. Footage taken by ABS-CBN News reporter Chiara Zambrano show the signs of a hasty departure by residents. But the same report also shows sturdy homes, some with fences around lush gardens.

WATCH: Libu-libong lumad lumikas dahil sa patayan

For Michelle and students who take pride in the achievements of Alcadev, it is galling to hear military officials justifying the killings as a punishment of suspected rebels.

Alcadev is a sprawling, 16-hectare compound with a dormitory for students and volunteer teachers and all kinds of agriculture projects that teach scholars the value of self-sufficiency.

They have many plots planted with corn and all kinds of vegetables, a pond with fish and ducks and a section devoted to vermiculture. Aside from agriculture, Alcadev tries to keep alive traditional lumad craft like weaving.

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Plots plated with corn and other vegetables at the Alcadev compound.

The children's hours are full of work and study. They eat their own harvest and sell the surplus to the village cooperative, which paramilitary forces torched during their rampage.

Teacher Gideon Galicia said students and teachers transfer technology to families in the communities. Hundreds of Alcadev students have become agriculture and health workers and volunteer teachers for Lumad villages across Mindanao.

The school, funded by a consortium of church-based groups and a Belgian foundation, has been credited for increasing productivity three-fold under the leadership of Emerito Samarca, the slain executive director who served as a peasant organizer before becoming an educator.

KILLINGS 'EXTENSIVELY PLANNED'

Barangay Diatagon is part of the 60,000-hectare, mineral-rich Andap Valley. It has coal and gold and some of the richest agricultural lands in Caraga, the government-appointed ''mining capital'' of the country.

Just an hour away from Lianga, the mountains and vales of surrounding municipalities and adjoining provinces are full of gouged earth. There is a persistent haze around the national highway caused by mining operations during the dry seasons.

There are no processing industries for the minerals taken from the soil so huge ships wait for raw earth destined for facilities in China, Australia and other countries.

This has produced a phenomenon called the ''gone mountains'' – because extraction literally whittles down these sites.

The highly-organized Lumad community of Andap Valley has made it one of the few remaining areas in Caraga (Region 13) that remain free of big mining operations and plantations.

The Diocese of Tandag in a pastoral statement has also said the killings were ''extensively planned'' and targeted against anti-mining communities.

''In a deeper analysis of the situation, it is possible that this series of incidents of threats and harassments could have ceased long ago if there was no one behind all this,'' the diocese said.

''One can see and understand that only those community of [lumad] who firmly stand to protect the forest and reject mining activities and anything that destroys nature were obviously the ones being hounded and intimidated supposedly by the aforementioned notorious group.

''Our indigenous people who, ever since, have been one with Nature, have lived in and survived out of their land of heritage, are now victims of those who are hungry and greedy for power and wealth.''

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources lists several approved applications for mining and plantation projects in the Andap Valley. Lumad resistance, however, has stalled the issuance of final permits for these ventures.

'PEACE OF THE GRAVEYARD'

For Galicia and Michelle, relocation would mean abandonment of the hard work that fostered thriving community known to be among the last holdouts against mining and plantation projects.

''We will never give in,'' said Michelle.

The evacuees in Tandag and 1,000 more in Marihatag, also in Surigao del Sur, suffer less than ideal conditions in the centers.

The provincial government has organized a displacement center that has earned praise from Peter Deck, UNCHR head of office for Mindanao. But Gov. Johnny Pimente, a fierce critic of the AFP's use of paramilitary groups, acknowledges the camp is a far cry from the wide, open spaces of their village.

Galicia pointed out that the evacuees in Tandag are not victims of natural disasters or illegal settlers in need of resettlement.

''They are owners of their lands by right of ancestral domain,'' he said. ''Harassment and other human rights violations by paramilitary forces and government troops caused the flight to safer ground.''

Soliman calls it a situation of ''civil unrest''.

Bai Josephine Pagalan calls the phrase a cop-out and one that hews to the military line that the rampages of paramilitary forces are a ''tribal war'' or a ''clan war''.

Pagalan was one of those who testified before Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Chito Gascon and other commissioners in Manila. The two lumad leaders were slain in front of her house, in full view of more than a hundred residents and another hundred of teachers and students from the two lumad schools in the area.

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

The spokesman and vice chair for Kasalo, the regional Lumad alliance, said Soliman's offer triggers memories of what soldiers and paramilitary troops told them before the massacre.

''They told us to leave. Paramilitary bandits said we would all be massacred if we don't leave. Soldiers also told us leave because our presence only makes the NPA strong,'' she recalled. ''All of us heard that.''

''Now Soliman is offering this. First they beat us, kill us, and then they offer us relocation. Are we supposed to be grateful for this?''

The Lianga massacre and the displacement of her family, peers and neighbors forced Michelle to drop out of her BS Education course at the local state college.

''There is no one left in our village,'' she told ABS-CBN News. ''I need to be with my siblings and our mother. One day, I will go back to school. Now, we need to work for justice and for our community's urgent needs.''

She also said students of Alcadev and those at the elementary school will be devoting time and energy to fight those who seek to close down their schools.

In a previous interview with ABS-CBN News, Michelle criticized ''Oplan Bayanihan,'' the military program under Mr. Aquino's administration, which seeks to deliver a death blow to Asia's longest-running homegrown communist insurgency.

''You say it will bring peace to the lumad. Yes, it is true peace could come to our community because by then the paramilitary would have killed us all. And once all lumad who defend their ancestral lands have been killed, the capitalists will enjoy progress because they will be able to mine our lands.''

READ: Slain Lumad leader's child to PNoy: Your peace is of the graveyard