By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Philippine National Police (PNP) is using the legal system to harass leaders of an indigenous people’s organization in Surigao del Sur.
According to a report from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in the Northern Mindanao Region (NMR), 37 indigenous members and leaders of the Manobo indigenous people’s organization Maluhutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sumusunod (Mapasu or Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation) have been slapped with charges of rebellion, frustrated murder, arson, illegal possession of firearms and explosives and malicious mischief in two criminal cases based on complaints filed by elements of the PNP. The PNP have charged the 37 with involvement in an attack made by the New People’s Army (NPA) on the Lianga Police Station on April 29, 2011.
Mapasu chairman Jalandoni Campos said they first received notice of this case from the human rights group Karapatan Caraga on March 2012 based on court records of an existing criminal case that was being handled by the organization since May 2011. The names of the Mapasu members were added in the August 2011 amended information of this criminal case.
“We were denied due process of law when this case was filed against us. I personally did not receive any notice of this case from the local prosecutor’s office. I was surprised when I found out that there was already a warrant of arrest issued against me and the military was threatening to serve the warrant unless I surrender to them.”, Campos said.
The Mapasu members are reportedly now under threat of being arrested.
Campos belongs to the second of three generations of Lumad leaders who, almost yearly, lead his people to seek temporary shelter away from their ancestral lands to ensure the safety of their fellow Manobos from the military.
Strong human rights and anti-mining advocacies
Mapasu is an organization of Manobo indigenous communities in the municipalities of Lianga, San Agustin, Marihatag and Tago in Surigao del Sur. It is recognized and respected in the the province for its strong stance against the intrusion of mining companies in their communities within the coal, copper and gold-rich Andap Valley complex.
Members and leaders of the group are also active in exposing human rights violations committed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against civilians in the province. They have submitted complaints of human rights violations with Philippine government agencies and international human rights bodies against elements of the different units of the Philippine Army that were assigned to their communities since 2005.
In almost a decade of Mapasu’s efforts to build stable communities and schools, residents belonging to 19 communities led by Mapasu were forced to evacuate in 2005 because of intense combat operations of the military against the NPA. In the course of its offensives, the AFP perpetrated numerous human rights violations including the extrajudicial killing of civilian Jessie Bacasmas, and the enforced disappearance of the four Lumad farmers who were last seen in the custody of soldiers from the 58th Infantry Batallion, Philippine Army (IBPA).
This was followed by more massive incidents of forced evacuation in 2007, 2009 and 2011. In November 2011, they protested against the Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) operations conducted by the 29th IBPA under the command of Col. Henry Robinson. More community residents were forced to evacuate because of the operations.
As a pre-condition to their return to the communities, Robinson signed an agreement with Mapasu that the military would desist from implementing its COPD and leave the implementation of socio-economic projects to the local civilian authorities and agencies.
According to the RMP-NMR, the filing of bogus criminal charges leaders and members of progressive people’s organizations is an increasing trend within the Caraga region.
Discrediting Katribu nominee
Genasque Enriquez, secretary general of the Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga (Kasalo Caraga or Organization of Indigenous Peoples Organizations in Caraga) is also facing charges of murder and multiple frustrated murder filed by elements of the 11th Special Action Company and 75th IBPA. This was in connection with an NPA ambush against these operating elements of the military in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur on July 21.
Incidentally, Genasque was a guest in a local radio show in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte on the same date.
Enriquez, in his capacity as Kasalo Caraga leader and the second nominee of the KATRIBU party-list, is well-known for his stand opposing heightened militarization, corporate mining and commercial plantations that affect Lumad communities in Caraga and the whole of the Philippines.
The forced evacuations due to militarization in Mamanwa lumad communities in Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Norte in February to March, 2012 put him in frequent confrontations with officials of the 30th IBPA and Civil Military Operations (CMO) of the 4th Infantry Division. In a statement from Katribu, the group said the military wants to discredit Enriquez and stop his participation in the 2013 elections.
Enriquez said the malicious filing of criminal charges against lumad leaders and members in Caraga and directly associating them with the NPA is part of a military strategy to stop civilians from protesting against military abuses.
“This is all part of Operational Plan Bayanihan (Cooperation), the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) of the Philippine Government based on the United States Counter Insurgency (COIN) Guide,” he said.
“Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, massive forced evacuations and other grave human rights violations have resulted in the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan, to the detriment of the Lumad in Caraga.”
Enriquez said the September 13 killing of Genesis Ambason, secretary general of the Banwaon indigenous peoples organization Tagdumahan in Brgy. Binicalan, San Luis, Agusan del Sur is another attack against the Lumad people in Caraga.
“But instead of weakening us, Genesis’ death has made us more determined to continue the fight against political and economic repression of the Lumad,” he said.
Kasalo Caraga has already issued an appeal to local and international human rights organisations to demand that the Benigno Aquino III government withdraw these trumped up cases against Lumad community leaders and investigate the increased incidence of filing false charges and violation of the right to due process.
“These false accusations and criminal cases we’re being dragged into are meant to harass us into silence and demoralize our ranks. Against all this we still vow to continue fighting for the respect of our rights as persons and to continue our work for the realization of our dreams of genuine development as a people,” he said.
Human rights advocates have pointed out that military operations in Caraga continue to serve as clearing operations for the continued operation and entry of mining companies in the region. Caraga has been named the country’s mining capital.
Six of the 51 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) in Caraga and 14 of the 23 exploration permits for nickel and gold are within the mountain areas covered by the military operations: Gigaquit and Alegria in Surigao del Norte and Kitcharao, Santiago, Tubay and Cabadbaran in Agusan del Norte. The Sumitomo Tag-anito High Pressure Acid Leach (T-HPAL) Plant in neighboring Claver, Surigao del Norte is currently under construction and is set for full operation in 2013. A hydro power plant will also be constructed in the Jabonga-Santiago-Tubay area in Agusan del Norte.