TWHA Philippine partners condemn the spate of killings and violence against the indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples in southern Philippines are facing spate of killings and violence in the hands of military and paramilitary groups due to their unyielding resistance against the encroachment of their ancestral lands by big transnational mining companies and corporate plantations.

TWHA Philippine partners, Gabriela, Council for Health and Development, Ibon Foundation and Advocates for Community Health, have joined the whole progressive social movement here in condemning the brutal killings of the head of a school for the indigenous people (IP) and two IP leaders last September 1. They are also demanding for justice as they call on the government to pull out the military from IP communities and immediately dismantle the paramilitary group said to be responsible for the heinous crime.


They have also expressed concern for the residents who were forced to evacuate the village after the incident. “We are very concerned with the condition of nearly 3,000 villagers who have fled their homes and sought shelter in Tandag City following the killings as soldiers belonging to the 36th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and members of paramilitary group called Magahat-Bagani still stay in the village,” said the partners in a statement.


The deaths of Emerito Samarca, executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), Dionel Campos, chair of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation) or MAPASU and his cousin Bello Sinzo were the latest on a series of systematic attacks against indigenous peoples in the resource-rich island of Mindanao by government forces and the paramilitary groups that they organized. The only sin of these peoples is their continued defense of their ancestral lands from government-backed land grabbing to facilitate the entry of large-scale mining and big transnational plantations.


According to the witnesses' testimonies, Campos and Sinzo were executed in front of the villagers by members of Magahat-Bagani who had also forcibly herded them and the students and staff of ALCADEV in the village center around 4:00 am. Samarca was found dead in a room inside ALCADEV compound, hogtied and with stab wound in his chest and a slit throat after he was ordered to stay behind. The group also burned the cooperative store of the community and threatened to kill them all.


Two days before the killings, soldiers from the Philippine Army's 36th Battalion arrived in the village just as ALCADEV had finished the celebration of its 11th founding anniversary. The soldiers reportedly occupied the function hall of the school as well as rooms and waiting shed of an elementary school being run by the non-government organization, Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur.


A couple of weeks before this incident, government soldiers reportedly massacred five IPs, including a blind 70-year old man and two minors in the province of Bukidnon also in Mindanao. There are also about 700 IPs who have sought sanctuary in a church in Davao City (also in Mindanao) for several months now following forced evacuation caused by continued military presence and harassments in their village. They are being accused as sympathizers of the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the underground communist movement, after they had refused to be recruited as members of a paramilitary group.


ALCADEV is located within the coal, copper and gold-rich Andap Valley Complex in Surigao del Sur in Mindanao. It was built in 2004 through the determined effort of MAPASU to provide high school education to IP children with the help of religious and non-government organizations. It is noteworthy that TWHA right-to-health programs in the past years had benefited the communities surrounding ALCADEV through the anti-malaria and herbal gardening projects. TWHA partners have also contributed in various ways in the education of the students as ALCADEV prepares them to become community health workers, among the students' various responsibilities.


As an alternative learning center, ALCADEV has already won a number of awards and recognitions and has been recognized by the Department of Education (DepEd) for its outstanding contribution in providing education to IP communities, a supposedly government responsibility. Just last year, it ranked fifth in the National Literacy Award given to non-government organizations or academic institutions involved in delivering the DepEd’s alternative learning system program. But what distinguishes Alcadev from other alternative learning schools is that it fulfills its primary function of being the expression of IP's desire to preserve their culture against the encroachment of commercialization and defend their ancestral land against development aggressions like large-scale mining, big plantations and logging


“This desire does not sit well with the powers that be who have interest in exploiting their resource-rich land. Since 2005, when the national government opened Andap Valley for mining exploration and operation, the school and the surrounding communities have faced various forms of military harassments, killings and arrests of their leaders on trumped-up charges and massive evacuations. It was also at this time that the military started to organize paramilitary groups from among the lumad communities and use them to sow terror and division among their own kins and villages,” the partners said.


The military has unabashedly been accusing ALCADEV and several other IP schools in Mindanao in media and the public as “training grounds” of the NPA.


“We call on all our countrymen and the international community to press the Aquino government to bring to justice the killers of Emuk, Dionel and Aurelio and immediately dismantle Mahagat-Bagani and other military-backed paramilitary groups. We demand for the stop of Oplan Bayanihan which has caused and will continue to cause numerous human rights violations. Hiding behind the veil of people-centered security strategy and being peddled by the government as a grandiose program for peace, development and human rights, Oplan Bayanihan has clearly become the tool of the government to protect investments such as foreign corporate plantations and large mining from people's resistance and from those who have been divested of their lands and rights,” the partners concluded.


According to the rights group Karapatan, 53 Ips have been killed under the Aquino administration, 13 of them just this year. There are at least 84 cases of attacks on 57 community schools that have affected thousands of IP children.