The recurring evacuation of Lumad families whenever there are military operations in their ancestral domains remain the most effective defense for them from harassments. From the Lumads' experience, after armed encounters between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People's Amy (NPA), their homes are usually violently intruded by the military, accusing them of hiding the rebels, or on many occasions, being rebels themselves.
"Unless the internal security plan of the government is changed - in essence, not in name - and unless the orientation of the military to go after any indigenous individual they see, this military operations in Lumad communities will be a constant threat to them," said Atty. Czarina Golda Musni, the Project Manager of ‘Healing the Hurt’ initiative.
Dialogues under the initiative, however, have already helped make marks in the Lumad communities' plight.
The Higaonon communities of Sitio Camansi and Sitio Tapol of Barangay Banglay, Lagonglong, have made the half-day treks from their homes to the nearest accessible roads many times already. The first time, their homes had been the target of bombings from the military, who alleged that the NPA was encamped near their ritual area. Another time, they were informed that the military was going to base in their community to 'clear' the area of the rebels. And in other instances, their homes were hit in what the military excused to be a 'crossfire' between them and the rebels when in fact the community confirmed that there was no return fire.
Finally, in April 2017, with a new mayor seated in Lagonglong, a substantial memorandum of agreement was reached between the community - which at that time evacuated again for the same reasons - and the local government units.
Assisted by the support group ‘Higala sa Lumad’ Network, the community leaders were able to present their demands to the government agencies who visited the evacuation camp they set up at the provincial capitol grounds of Misamis Oriental in Cagayan de Oro, to the government units of Misamis Oriental and Lagonglong, and even to the AFP.
The government units, together with the ‘Higala sa Lumad’ Network, conducted a fact-finding mission where they saw the damage on some of the houses caused by the military operation. The mission also ensured that the military had already fully pulled out of the community.
Finally, before the evacuees went home, they were able to sign the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which stated the responsibility of the local governments in ensuring that the military does not set up camp or detachments in the Higaonon communities, ensuring the safety of the families, and even in providing for basic services needed by the communities.
The MOA was signed by the Provincial Governor of Misamis Oriental, Yevgeny Vicente Emano, Lagonglong Municipality Mayor Jap Puertas, and the Barangay Captain of Banglay, Honifuerta Redondo, and from representatives from the community Datu Reynaldo Ayuma, and Sariza H. Acosta.
"Even if the MOA was not signed by the military, we believe that the control over these state forces should be handled by the local governments who are signatories of the memorandum," said Atty. Musni. "This is just a start. We hope that through our efforts we can make a legislation of this sort so that the handling of such incidences would not be subject to the whims of the politicians but would be according to substantial legislation."
The ‘Healing the Hurt’ project is an initiative of RMP-NMR Inc and partners supported by the European Union through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. It seeks to contribute to the fight against discrimination, human rights violations and impunity plaguing the Lumad communities of Mindanao. The project, aside from supporting dialogues with the duty-bearers from the state, also includes capacity-building activities for indigenous communities on table battle to better equip them in public speaking and negotiating for their rights.###
[PHOTO: Lumad leaders from Sitio Camansi and Sitio Tapol in a dialogue with the representatives of the Provincial Governent of Misamis Oriental and various local agencies.]