The Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD) joined a solidarity visit to Lumad indigenous people in Mindanao who were forced to flee their homes due to the heavy militarization in the Andap Valley Complex. The visit was part of an ecumenical group’s initiative to look into the real situation of the displaced Lumad who are on a mass evacuation toward Tandag City.
Some 1,600 Lumad from upland communities of Diatagon, Lianga in Surigao del Sur and neighboring villages fled towards the city on July 16, 2018, merely a month after the 75th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army built a military detachment and a patrol base in Diatagon.
The mass evacuation is also an act of indignation against military harassment, intimidation and threats, and the sexual harassment of their women and children. Still, the military continues to attack Lumad evacuees by imposing food blockade and the cutting of water and electric supply in the evacuation sites.
The military, too, prevented the Lumad from moving towards Tandag through hamletting. Their leaders were also charged with trumped-up cases for leading the mass evacuation.
Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol, who represented RPRD during the solidarity visit, expressed disbelief at the military’s attacks and the many cases of abuses against the rights of the Lumad.
“Subjecting the Lumad to military persecution, militarizing their villages and harassing and threatening them in their own land and even when they flee from their atrocities are apparent demonstrations of the gross human rights violations in the country,” he said.
Fr Jonas Joyohoy, RPRD Executive Director, saw the resurgence of military attacks against Lumad communities in the light of the military rule that President Duterte imposed in Mindanao.
“These violations against the Lumad people are done with impunity in the context of martial law in Mindanao, and the Lumad are left totally defenseless,” the priest added.
The Lumad people said that the militarization of their villages is aimed to quell their resistance against the encroachment of large-scale and foreign-owned coal mining companies into their ancestral land.
On Feb. 1, no less than President Rodrigo Duterte declared Andap Valley Complex open to investors and told the Lumad to prepare for relocation.
Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Dindo Ranojo and spokesperson of Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) deplored the militarization of Lumad communities.
“What we are witnessing is how the government interprets a so-called development. It is where its own people are deprived of their land, its riches and minerals, while the few and the powerful are benefits from it,” the bishop said.
He also condemned the use of military might to drive the Lumad away from their ancestral domain.
RPRD demands the pull-out of military troops in the entire Andap Valley Complex so the Lumad can return to the communities.