MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan has asked the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the killings of Lumad people in Mindanao which it believes were perpetrated by a paramilitary group sanctioned by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
"We want international bodies to know what is happening in Mindanao—that the Lumad, in defense of their land, are being killed and forced to leave their communities," Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
Public outrage over the plight of Lumads reached its peak after a Lumad school head and two Manobo leaders were gunned down in Lianga, Surigao del Sur last September 1.
The fatalities were identified as Emerito Samarca, executive director of lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Manobo leader Dionel Campos; and Aurelio Sinzo.
Karapatan accused the paramilitary group Mahagat-Bagani of being behind the killing. It likewise accused the military of causing the displacement of Lumads in Mindanao.
"While the AFP can lie through their teeth about their involvement on the killings and all other atrocities of its paramilitary groups, the motives are crystal clear: eliminate those who are perceived as enemies of the state, including those who fight for their land and their rights,'' Palabay said.
''There is no way the government can deny this as long as it implements counter-insurgency programs like Oplan Bayanihan. The paramilitary groups is one way of tackling this dirty war against the Filipino people. It is no wonder why the AFP has not disbanded these groups - because they work together.''
Karapatan sent letters about the plight of the Lumads to Dr. Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; Christof Heyns, SR on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michel Forst, SR on Situation of Human Rights Defenders; and Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, SR on Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.
The military has denied the existence of the paramilitary group. It has also accused several lumad people of empathizing with the New People’s Army, saying some facilities harboring lumads, such as the Davao City Haran mission sanctuary of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP), is under the control of leftist groups.
In a statement, AFP spokesperson Restituto Padilla Jr. slammed the group's move to ''internationalize'' the issue.
"The attempt to internationalize the issue and demonize government and the AFP in regard to the matter is always an expected move on their part. It is obviously part of their agenda to hurl all accusations and blame everything on the AFP to besmirch the AFP's reputation,'' Padilla said.
''The AFP was not involved in the incident and is working and cooperating fully with the Philippine National Police to ascertain the facts regarding this disturbance. The AFP is also doing its own internal investigation to ascertain if AFP actions were appropriate relative to this unfortunate event. We assure the public that the interests of the lumads and our respect for their cultural ways is foremost in our minds."