Manilakbayan brings to national attention military atrocities and large-scale mining companies' plunder of Mindanao resources.
Manilakbayan (Journey to Manila) is a long march from the island of Mindanao to the Manila, the country's capital, by more than 300 people belonging to various progressive and indigenous peoples' groups who are clamoring for the stop of large-scale mining in the island and the worsening human rights violations committed by the military which was tasked to protect the interest of mining instead of that of the people who have been displaced by mining operations.
The three week-long march of about 300 people belonging to various lumad (indigenous people) groups, peasants, workers, church people and women organizations from Mindanao who are calling on the government to stop growing militarization and large-scale mining in the region had ended last December 10, the International Human Rights Day, with the participants showing more resolve to carry on their struggle to attain justice.
Mindanao is one of the three major island groups in the Philippines. It is in the southern part of the archipelago. It is rich in mineral resources and also the source of major agricultural resources. Mindanao has the largest concentration of indigenous people groups in the country and home to various Muslim groups, collectively called Moro.
The participants started their Manilakbayan (Journey to Metro Manila) last November 12 passing by Visayas and Southern Tagalog regions and finally arriving in Manila on November 24 where organizations belonging to progressive mass movement met and joined them. TWHA partners Gabriela and the Council for Health and Development actively took part in a series of mass actions held by the participants to call the attention of President Aquino's administration to the worsening situation in Mindanao. CHD volunteers eagerly offered to perform medical checkup of the participants who endured the long march during one of their stops.
Manilakbayan aimed to bring to national attention the worsening human rights situation in Mindanao amidst escalating military operations which is widely believed as aimed at protecting the operations of big local and foreign mining corporations amidst strong opposition from various sectors in the region.
Massive military operations under the government's counter-insurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan, resulted in numerous cases of human rights violations ranging from extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, forcible evacuations and harassments. Most of the participants are actually victims or families of victims themselves. Comprising the majority of the contingent are indigenous peoples from various lumad tribes in Mindanao who are in danger of losing their ancestral lands to large-scale mining and have been the primary victims of human rights violations.
Of the 221 killings recorded by human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights) during the Aquino administration (from 2010 to 2014), 77 of the victims are from Mindanao most of whom are lumads. Several communities suffered forced evacuation due to the unrelenting military operations purportedly against the New People's Army guerillas (armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines) but were reportedly intended to sow terror among those who oppose the entry of mining in their lands.
According to Karapatan, there are currently 55 army batallions deployed in different parts of Mindanao. This is equivalent to 50,000 soldiers or 60 percent of the country's armed forces. These troops also serve as Investment Defense Force to protect big local and foreign large-scale mining companies in Mindanao. Of outmost concern is the reported presence of about 6,000 US servicemen in Mindanao for military exercises or positioned at the Joint-Operations Task Force-Philipppines in the city of Zamboanga in the southwestern part of Mindanao.
According to Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (national alliance of indigenous peoples in the Philippines) Mines and Geosciences Bureau data showed that mining tenements in Mindanao cover more than 311,000 hectares with estimated $313 billion worth of mineral wealth. More than half of estimated mineral wealth of the philippines is found in Mindanao where almost 50 percent of gold and 65 percent of nickel reserves of the country are located. As of August 2014, there are 117 approved mining tenements in Mindanao. Most of these tenements encroach in ancestral lands. KAMP fears that more than 100,000 lumads are in danger of losing their lands, homes and livelihoods from the mining operations.
To express their outrage and opposition, the Manilakbayan participants, joined by environmental and anti-mining groups stormed the Manila offices of mining corporations operating in Mindanao such as the Apex Mining Corporation, Sagittarius Mines, Inc., TVI Resource Development and Nickel Asia Corporation. They also trooped to Camp Aguinaldo, the national headquarters of the Armed Forced of the Philippines, to denounce the atrocities committed by the military against indigenous peoples and those who oppose mining in Mindanao.