“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”—Proverbs 31:8-9
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Region (RMP-NMR) is one with the Higaonon evacuees from Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental in their demand for the respect of their rights.
Almost a year since they last sought sanctuary at the Provincial Capitol Grounds in Cagayan de Oro City, our fellow Lumad brothers and sisters have once again preferred the cold concrete of the city to the comfort of their homes. And again, they have come down for the same reason – the military operation in their communities.
This is the fourth that they were forced to leave their ancestral lands. RMP-NMR is afraid that the statistics of internally displaced communities have only cemented the impunity of no less than the state forces – our state forces, forces we feed with our taxes.
We no longer say that we are alarmed by the acts of the military. We are well past the reaction of alarm, even past the reaction of outrage. It is with sadness that we have now acknowledged that these military operations and consequent human rights violations have come to define our state forces. Hiding behind the veneer of state defense, the military is actually a force of destruction for our communities that are on the margins of society.
We do not know how this institution, put up to serve the peoples of the Philippines, can be very disrespectful to the point of being insulting to the peoples it should be assisting. First they brush aside the concerns raised by the community when they said they feared the presence of the military among their homes. They illogically insisted to go house to house when the indigenous community had said they were not welcome to stay. Then they mocked the evacuees by staging concerts, asking for donations for the evacuees – none of the money of course going to the families.
But while we say that the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been predictably abusive and offensive, it is not with exhaustion that we condemn their atrocities once more – and will continue to do so as long as these keep on recurring.
We are now in a state of transition from one government administration to the next. While some state leaders have changed, many faces have remained in position. No structure has changed after the elections. The structure that has allowed the impunity of state forces and the repression of the poor Lumad continues to be in place.
We want to express not just our support for our Lumad brethren who continue, despite the odds against them, to fight and assert their rights. We also wish to challenge the incoming administration to address this structural oppression that has weighed down on our poor for so long. We wish to challenge the incoming officials elect to make it their concern when the indigenous communities, who proudly resisted the waves of colonizers, now prefer to seem like mendicants in the urban haze, feeling safer in the unfamiliar streets than in their ancestral lands.
The RMP-NMR will always be with our Lumad brethren in their assertion of their rights – to their lands, to their culture, and most especially to their right to self determination. We will always journey with them in their desire for life, and make certain that they have it to the full.
Sr. Ma. Famita N. Somogod, MSM
17 June 2016