Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, I rise today on a question of personal and collective privilege to once more appeal for urgent and appropriate action from this Congress to address the plight of the indigenous people and their children.
I say urgent, dear colleagues because lives are at stake and the lives of the Lumads have already been severely disrupted. I say appropriate because I have witnessed how a member of this august body can order the use of excessive force and usurp local government functions to further harass Lumad families.
Last June 13-14, 2015 a national fact finding mission led by the Save Our Schools Network and Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region went to Cateel, Davao Oriental as part of the efforts to look into the situation of tribal schools operated by the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center and the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Incorporated or MISFI.
The mission was prompted by the fact that for this year alone, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network – Southern Mindanao documented 14 incidents of various attacks on schools affecting about 1,700 students and about 50 teachers and school staff.
(SOS VIDEO 0:00-1:37 June 2015)
These attacks on schools consisted of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ illegal use of schools structures as barracks, the destruction of school structures and property, the harassment and red-baiting of teachers as well as students accusing them of being members or supporters of the New People’s Army. The community had an atmosphere of terror.
The mission was joined by Representatives Terry Ridon of Kabataan Partylist, Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, this representation and Rep. Nancy Catamco of North Cotabato, chairperson of the Committee on National Cultural communities. We saw for ourselves the reason behind the displacement, the reason why more than 700 displaced Lumads sought refuge and were granted sanctuary by the United Church of Christ of Philippines, Haran.
It was after this mission that the unfortunate incident occurred. Insisting that she be allowed to visit the evacuation center, Rep. Catamco was graciously allowed to do so.
(VIDEO-AUDIO FILE OF NANCY CATAMCO AT HARAN 00:00-00:55)
In practically a single breath, the Lumads were screamed at and asked to return home and the military presence in their communities was being justified to protect mining equipment. Rep. Catamco added further insult to the wounds accusing them of being stinky, “Baho!” inside the evacuation center. When the intended persuasion of the evacuees failed, the dialogue continued in another venue. The second dialogue ended in utter failure as the elders were again berated. In that dialogue, this representation was also insulted.
The elders whose leadership had already been questioned by Rep. Catamco were firm in their resolve to consult the rest of their followers. Mr. Speaker, consultation with one’s followers is a basic principle based on tribal tradition.
This process was tragically sabotaged when on July 23, 2015 during the early hours of the morning, just as the Lumad children were starting their lessons in makeshift classrooms at the evacuation center, the peace of that morning was rudely shattered when phalanx after phalanx of local police, military men in civilian attire, members of the Alamara and employees of government agencies destroyed the gate and barged into the UCCP Haran, reportedly ordered by the honorable Rep. Nancy Catamco. They had no search warrant or warrant of arrest to show the Lumads and their elders. Several dumptrucks were parked outside waiting to take the Lumads back to their lands but they resisted.
(VIDEO OF HARAN INCIDENT FROM KILAB MULTIMEDIA 00:00-03:15)
Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues. Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and several lawyers kept the gate open for almost two hours to belie the allegation that the Lumads were being held against their will. Not a single Lumad wanted to go back to their militarized land.
Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, the Lumads left their lands with hopes that government officials would listen to their plight and help resolve the seemingly endless situation of unpeace.
They did not expect that a member of this august body would bring them face to face with the police, the AFP and the paramilitary groups that caused them in the first place to flee the lands of their ancestors. Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, it is not within the jurisdiction nor the authority of members of the House of Representatives, even if they may be appointed to chair a Committee such as the Committee on Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Communities, to order the local police to forcibly bring internally displaced persons back to their communities against their will. Our colleague, Rep. Nancy Catamco clearly transgressed and went overboard. She usurped the powers of the local government in ordering the supposed rescue of the Lumads in UCCP Haran. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City aired his disgust by saying “Congresswoman ka lang, Mayor ako.”
Hon. Chaloka Beyani, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced persons went to Haran and listened to the pastors of the UCCP and the Lumad elders. Last July 31, he concluded his official visit to the Philippines and gave his statement based on his consultations with various stakeholders.
The report of Dr. Beyani states:
“I travelled to Davao to consult the national and local authorities and the indigenous peoples themselves on this situation. I heard from the AFP its assertion that it is seeking to protect the communities and provide services to them in conflict regions; however the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities. The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection. They described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP and harassment in the context of the on-going conflict between the AFP and the NPA.”
In press releases the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines distorted this report saying, Dr. Beyani believes that the Lumads in Haran were manipulated. This brazen distortion of Dr. Beyani’s statement is a grievous diplomatic faux-pas.
The AFP’s claims runs in sharp contrast to Dr. Beyanis official statement and places the Philippine government which invited him in an awkward and embarrassing situation.
Dr. Beyani was in fact precise in his statements and forthright in concluding that:
Displacement, whether due to conflict or development, not only destroys the homes and livelihoods of indigenous peoples, but has an incalculable impact on their cultures and ways of life that are part of the rich and diverse heritage of the Philippines that must be protected or otherwise lost, perhaps forever.
I urge the Government, in consultation with indigenous peoples themselves, to give greater attention to addressing the causes of displacement whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.
Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, today, I echo this call and urge each and everyone of us to join the Lumads in their appeal to demilitarize their communities so that they may return to their lands and so that their children can go back to school, without fear of being bombed or hit by bullets, without fear of being questioned or harassed by the military. As legislators, we do not have the authority to encroach on the jurisdiction of a local government unit. We should know our place.
Let us support the Lumads’ appeal for peace.
Privilege Speech delivered by Gabriela Women's Party Rep. Luzviminda C. Ilagan