CHANT WITH US!: A Campaign in Support of Paramilitary Victims in Bukidnon
Forty-six families from the Talaandig and Umayamnon peoples, victims of human rights violations are now currently encamping at the Bukidnon Provincial Capitol Grounds in Malaybalay City.
The Talaandig and Umayamnon have been living in peace and harmony along the Pantaron range. Farming and hunting are their principal source of living. Cassava, sweet potato and traditional rice are their staple food. They do not sell their products because they are too far from the market.
For the Talaandig and Umayamnon communities, the land is their source of life, but they only borrow the land from Magbabaya. They have to nurture and protect this land to be continuously blessed. They do not have land titles of their ancestral lands but they firmly believe that Magbabaya entrusted it to them for protection. In a way of paying, they offer prayers and acts of gratitude especially in their farming cycles.
In their effort to educate their children, they have set-up their Pigpamulahan Tribal School with the aid of the local government unit and a non-government organization. Their school caters to 89 students from Day Care up to Grade 4.
The Talaandig and Umayamnon in Sitio Balaudo had been living in peace for decades. Once conflicts arise, they are easily settled following their traditional processes. The Datu facilitates a dialogue between the two warring parties and when the case is heard out, he sets the penalty for each party.
They have not trained baganis (traditional warriors) because there had been no reason to, their community had not having declared a pangayao (tribal war) for decades.
While there have been news of encounters between the Government of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA), none of these ever took place directly inside their barrio. According do Datu Mandayhon, the leader of the Talaandig community, they ask both parties to just pass them by if they see them. Consequently, the armed groups fight each other in the forests, far from the residences.
Military operations are conducted in their ancestral domain often without the knowledge or without the permit of the community. Datu Mandayhon’s granddaughter reasoned that they wouldn’t have allowed these operations if they did ask for permission before getting to their lands as even if their homes are spared, their farms, and their livelihood in general, are affected. They explained that with the barrio system imposed by the government, their domiciles are concentrated in one area while their farms are far from their homes. If an armed encounter takes place, they could not visit their crops for fear of getting caught in the crossfire. They had already fled their homes back in 2008 when the military started bombing the forests near them. Although they were not the direct targets, they feared they would be involved.
However, the killings in the second half of 2015 directly targeted them, forcing them to leave their homes once more.
On September 25, 2015, Jun ‘Obet’ Pabiana, a Banwaon who was passing by Sitio Balaudo was shot to death by Mankolobi Bocalas, a member of the Talaandig community. On that same day, a Grade 3 student, Jonathan ‘Olaking’ Olinan, was on his way to gather abaca leaves with his brother when he was also shot and killed by Bocalas. Mankolobi, together with his brother, Manlumakad Bocalas, refused to be subjected to the community’s justice system, the Talaandig who evacuated said. Instead, they affiliated themselves with the Dela Mance paramilitary group that has been terrorizing the municipality of Cabanglasan and the remote barangays of Malaybalay City. The brothers claimed that the individuals they had killed were members of the NPA.
A month after the deaths of Olinan and Pabiana, the Bocalas brothers ambushed a group of Talaandig men who were on their way to gather fruits in the forested area of Dumaltong in Cabanglasan. Mankombete Mariano, the man who was leading the group, was incapacitated when hit by a bullet. Manlumakad then hacked him with a machete.
On November 25, the Talaandig community of Balaudo decided to leave their homes and seek temporary sanctuary in Sitio Mahayag of Barangay St. Peter, Malaybalay City. While there, they were assured by the government-mandated indigenous representatives of the city that they had already resolved the situation and that it was safe for the families to go back to their homes. But when some of them went to check their homes, they saw that these had been broken into, their things wrecked and strewn about.
On January 20, the families decided to set up a protest camp in the center of Malaybalay City to demand a concrete act from the government. They were joined by families from Sitio Kinuaw, Barangay Zamboanguita, and Purok 3, Barangay Mapulo, Malaybalay City, who were also being harassed by the Dela Mance group.
The impunity of paramilitary groups
The Dela Mance paramilitary had previously been a family-composed bandit group involved in robberies, carabao hustling, and other criminal activities in Cabanglasan and some barangays of Malaybalay City. In 1995, with the advise of the Dela Mance’s relative, then spokesperson of the 403rd Brigade of the Philippine military Captain Dumalahay, they surrendered themselves as members of the New People’s Army. It was under the condition that they will be acknowledged as aides in the government’s counter-insurgency operations, giving them official consent to use firearms.
However, throughout the years, the Dela Mance group has been targeting civilians. Whenever the NPA would kill a member of their group, they take their revenge on the residents of Cabanglasan and Malaybalay. Some of their victims have filed cases against them and two warrants of arrests were released against the Dela Mances in June 2015. However, instead of being arrested, they were seen by community members accompanying the Armed Forces of the Philippines in military operations.
A similar situation happened when a barangay captain in San Fernando, Bukidnon was killed in front of his family by the paramilitary group New Indigenous Peoples Army (NIPAR) in 2012. After the lobbying of the family of the slain leader, Jimmy Liguyon, and support organizations, a warrant of arrest was issued against Alde Salusad, the leader of NIPAR. But until now, Salusad remains at large, reported to be controlling the small-scale mining operations in San Fernando. Salusad, in a radio interview, claimed that he killed Liguyon because Liguyon was a supporter of the NPA. However, it was known that Salusad’s group has been threatening Liguyon because he refused to sign papers that would allow the titling of their ancestral domain under the claim of individuals who wanted to bring in a large scale mining company into their lands.
Both NIPAR and Dela Mance have been reported to be now affiliated with a large paramilitary organization operating in the remote areas of Bukidnon, Agusan del Sur and Davao del Norte. They have claimed to be part of the anti-insurgency campaign of the government. None of the victims of these paramilitary groups have seen justice. Instead of jailing the culprits, government forces have been observed to protect them.
The situation calls for immediate action. The tribal duties to call for support go beyond their communities. They need advocates from all over the world to share their struggle, the fight to defend their lands, to get back to their lands. Daily, limbay[i] chanters alternately resound their songs calling for support and solidarity.
The demands of the evacuees and supporting organizations:
1. Jail and prosecute the culprits of human rights violations!
2. Disband and disarm all indigenous paramilitaries!
3. Stop the militarization of indigenous communities!
4. Scrap Executive Order 546 which allows the employment of paramilitaries to help in the counter-insurgency operations of the AFP!
About the ‘Higala sa Lumad’ Network
The campaign is managed by the Higala sa Lumad Network, in coordination with Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization and Pigyayungaan.
Higala sa Lumad Network is an interfaith support network aimed at protecting indigenous communities through information campaigns and lobbying. The network also provides economic aid to emergency situations such as evacuations and displacement. The Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization is a region-wide network of indigenous organizations, primarily calling for the respect and promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights. Pigyayungaan is a Lumad organization of the indigenous communities in the northern part of Bukidnon. It has an active campaign for the integrity of ancestral domains against the encroachment of mining and agroindustrial plantations.
For more information, please contact:
‘Higala sa Lumad’ Network
T: +63 (63) 223 5179
Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization
T: +63 935 423 9557
[i] ‘Limbay’ is a traditional Lumad chant