DAVAO CITY – The public inquiry of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on the plight of tribal communities in southern Mindanao, held Thursday, Sept. 24, dismayed a council of tribal elders and their support groups.
Datu Kailo Buntolan, a leader of the Salugpungan Ta’tanu Council of Elders, expressed dismay over the set of questions that were “mostly not about the issue they are complaining about.”
“What the commissioners are asking us are more on the whereabouts of the New People’s Army, if they are also staying in our communities,” said Buntolan.
“That’s not the issue here, there are no complaints raised against the NPAs for they are not the ones who are encamping in our communities,” Buntolan added.
In April last year, Ata-Manobo residents from Talaingod, Davao del Norte fled their communities to seek refuge in the compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) this city after they complained of being harassed by Army soldiers who also occupied their houses.
By April 30, they returned to their communities after the dialogue between Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Davao del Norte Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario resulted to an agreement to withdraw military operations from the affected communities.
A year after, however, the Talaingod Lumads fled and returned to the UCCP compound here after government soldiers occupied again their houses and the school and forced them to join the paramilitary group Alamara.
Residents who refuse to join the paramilitary were branded as supporters or members of the New People’s Army.
“What we wanted to discuss further are reasons why we have left our communities. About the military encampment and the forced recruitment by the paramilitary group,” Buntolan said.
“It was not discussed deeper,” Buntolan said about the hearing.
Hanimay Suazo, spokesperson of the human rights group Karapatan, said that “they [commissioners] were asking misleading questions which limits the resource persons.”
Suazo said the commissioners reiterated the issue on the “ideal protocols in evacuation centers” which, she said, was not the main issue.
“The point is that no one wants to evacuate, the main issue is on the militarization of the communities and schools,” Suazo said.
Suazo also said that commissioners “kept on raising the idea of separating Lumad evacuees into separate evacuation centers.”
Commissioner Roberto Cadiz, during the inquiry, suggested to the Lumad leaders and the support groups that “what if we (offer) another separate evacuation centers,” separating Lumads into different locations where “sanitation can be assured and government services can be accessible.”
Cadiz, in an interview with Davao Today, said that during their visit at the UCCP Haran, “they saw how crowded the 600 plus Lumads are in the area.”
But for Buntolan, he said that “they cannot allow it to happen.”
Buntolan said after the July 23 incident when police authorities accompanied by North Cotabato 2nd District Representative Nancy Catamco tried to “rescue” them, “it will not be ideal to separate us.”
Meanwhile, Cadiz explained that the first day of the public inquiry is “just to get the side of the Lumads and their support groups,” and on the next day would be inquiry on the side of the military, Rep. Catamco, the Department of Education, and other civil service organizations and government agencies concerned.
“Some of them have slightly different version of July 23. We want to listen to them,” Cadiz said.
As of now, Cadiz said that the CHR could still not make a conclusion on the public inquiry, but said they will come up with concrete recommendations to relevant agencies “after a month or two.”