Position Paper Submitted to the Committee on National Cultural Minorities House of Representatives

By Cristina Palabay
Secretary General, Karapatan
March 3, 2014


Magandang araw po. 

On behalf of Karapatan, I thank the members of the House of Representatives Committee on National and Cultural Minorities for this hearing on human rights violations against indigenous communities. 

I would like to bring to your attention the following cases:

 

Nearly two years ago, on March 5, 2012, indigenous chieftain and Dao, Bukidnon village captain Jimmy Linguyon, was shot dead outside his house by Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad, a known leader of NIPAR, a paramilitary group in the province directly under the AFP’s 8th Infantry Battalion (IB). A NIPAR leader then threatened the witnesses that anyone who went against their group would meet a similar fate and made it clear to the witnesses that he had killed Liguyon because of his opposition to plans which would lead to extensive mines in their traditional territory. Liguyon was firmly opposed to illegal mining activities in his barangay. Despite death threats from NIPAR and San Fernando Matigsalug Tribal Datus, he declined to sign the Free, Prior and Informed Consent agreement to allow the entry of mining companies. On March 20th, NIPAR openly admitted to having killed Liguyon, in a statement read over the dxDB, a local radio station. In April 2012, after Liguyon’s family filed a case, the court has issued a warrant of arrest against Salusad and his cohorts. Despite the warrant, he remains free with the company of the 8th IBPA.

In the wee hours of 30th June, 2011, Arpe Belayong, a tribal leader and a member of the local Higaonon organisation Linundigan in Agusan Del Sur, Mindanao along with his 21 yr old nephew, Solte San-ogan, was assassinated in Calabuan village, Municipality of Esperanza. The assailants entered the victim’s home and fired at point blank range, killing them instantly, also injuring Belayong’s two children, aged 14 and 4. Belayong was among the Linundugan members who was opposed to logging, mining and large scale plantations in their ancestral land. Following this incident, 23 families from the area, and six leading members of Linundigan went into hiding after feeling extremely threatened by members of the paramilitary group, ‘Salakawan’. The identified assailants are also members of the Special Civilian Active Auxiliaries and paramilitary group, ‘Salakawan’ formerly known as the Manpatilan private army called Wild Dogs. One of the perpetrators is allegedly a part of the security entourage of the current mayor of Esperanza, Nida Manpitalan. No arrests have been made so far. 

In September 13, 2012, members of Cafgu tortured and killed 23-year old Genesis Ambason, a member of Banwaon tribe and the secretary general of Tagdumahan, the Lumad organization in San Luis, Agusan del Sur. Amason was killed by seven members of the Cafgu unit of the 26th IBPA that had a detachment at Sitio Tambo, Binikalan village in San Luis. The Cafgu members were identified as Artemio Sublidan, Sammy Sinato, Mama Mapisahan, Macky Lunsayan, Hunas Sinatao, Bebot Rocero and a certain Bigot. The Cafgu members were also reportedly with three soldiers of the 26th IBPA at the time of the killing. Saguitan’s relatives found his body mutilated. Almira, Saguitan’s wife who is eight months pregnant with their first child, “wept while cleaning his husband’s body” when she saw the two gunshot wounds in his right chest and another two gunshot wounds in the hip area, near his spine. His face and chest were covered with bruises. Ambason’s teeth are all gone. His head was deformed, and his face unrecognizable because of the bruises due to heavy beating.

On 17 October 2011, Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, an Italian Missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission, anti-mining, human rights activist, and the Board Member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines Southern Mindanao, was assassinated by an unknown assailant in his convent in Arakan Valley, Mindanao. He strongly advocated indigenous rights in Southern Mindanao and actively opposed large scale mining activities particularly the mining project by the Swiss multinational Xstrata-SMI. Xstrata-SMI plans to establish an open pit mine for gold and copper explorations and its waste facility in Sultan Kudarat. These will negatively impact the forest, watershed and the livelihoods of indigenous communities of Sultan Kudarat. Fr. Tentorio was openly critical of the Aquino goverment for the implementation of ‘Oplan Bayanihan’ in Mindanao. Fr. Tentorio’s assassination is attributed to paramilitary groups under the AFP’s 57th IB, whose paramilitary force Bagani has repeatedly made attempts on Tentorio’s life and threats against his person. 

On October 18,2012, anti-mining Blaan activist Juvy Capion, 27, and her two sons, John Mark Capion, 8, and Pop Capion,13, were killed by members of the 27th IBPA and CAFGU members in Fayahlob, Sitio Datal-Ayong, Bgy. Danlag, Tampakan, South Cotabato. Juvy Capion was a member of Kalgad, an organization of the Blaan tribe that is opposed to the entry of Xstrata-Sagittarius Mines, Inc (SMI) as there are about 30,000 Blaan who will be displaced from their ancestral lands with the entry and operation of Xstrata-SMI. Juvy’s father filed cases of murder against the perpetrators in March 2013, but in October 2013, Prosecutor Artemio Tajon disregarded statements of several witnesses which pin down the soldiers. One witness “even heard the soldiers talk about ‘finishing off’ a child who survived the massacre so no witness remains. Witnesses attested how the military cordoned off the area, having sole control over the crime scene and the lifeless bodies. The Office of the Provincial Prosecution in Digos City issued a resolution finding no probable cause against Lt. Col. Alexis Bravo, Lt. Dante Jimenez and 14 other members of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion. More than three months after Juvy was killed, her brother-in-law Kitari was likewise killed by members of the Task Force KITACOM (Kiblawan, Tampakan, Columbio, Malungon) of the 39th and 27th IB-PA and the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU). In August 2013, another anti-mining activist in the said area, Datu Anting Freay and his son Victor were killed by the 39th IBPA and the CAFGU. 

This 2014, Karapatan documented seven extrajudicial killings during the first six weeks of the year. One of the victims Datu Rolando Ambongan, a member of Katribu partylist and was among the vocal oppositors to the entry of a mining company in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte. Witnesses identified Eddie Ampiawan a.k.a Komander Bawang, leader of the armed para-military group Alimaong or Bagani Force as the perpetrator of the killing of Datu Ambongan. Even if they were wearing bonnet, along with William and Salomeo who were members of the CAFGU under the 29th IBPA, they were clearly identified because of the bright light and because he was well known and is a relative of much of the residents in the area.

On February 5, 2014, local farmers’ group leader Julieto Lauron was killed by two motorcycle-riding gunmen, while he and another peasant leader Nermie Lapatis, from the Higaonon indigenous people’s tribe, were on their way to another village. Lapatis survived, but is still currently recuperating. It is believed that the perpetrators were from the paramilitary group New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform (NIPAR) and the 8th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army, have harassed Lauron and Lapatis before the unfortunate incident. These groups are the same perpetrators accused in the killing of Liguyon.

I could go on and on, your Honors, because Karapatan’s documentation bears out 98 farmers, 37 indigenous peoples, 6 environmental activists and 3 church people were extrajudicially killed under the Aquino administration, most them involved in the causes for the defense of ancestral lands and the environment, and are vocal oppositors of the entry and militarization of state security forces in communities.  This situation illustrates the prevalent climate of impunity in the country, with the counter-insurgency program of the Aquino government targeting HRDs known for their defense of land and environmental rights. 

I would like to draw your attention and remind the members of this body to a very significant recommendation of human rights groups and families of the victims of extrajudicial killing since the time of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – that is the revocation of Executive Order 546, which legitimized the use of civilian military groups as force multipliers to supposedly combat rebel groups, giving free reign to paramilitary groups and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to commit heinous crimes such as the Ampatuan massacre, the killings of these indigenous leaders and environmental activists, and protect the interests of big foreign corporations such as transnational mining companies and agro-business plantations.

During the 2012 UN Universal Periodic Review, where the rights record of the Philippine government was reviewed, several foreign missions called for the immediate dismantling of paramilitary groups such as the CAFGU, SCAA, CVO and the repeal of EO 546. The European Parliament passed a similar resolution in May 2012, while the UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders and Extrajudicial Killings came out with a similar statement on July 2012. The GPH rejected this recommendation, and stood pat on the implementation of EO 546, especially with Pres. Aquino’s marching orders to continue the operation of such groups. In fact, in 2014 GAA, PhP2billion were allocated for the CAFGUs. This, of course, may be aside from the compensation and perks given by mining companies and local government units, as it has been clearly elucidated during the onsite investigation of this committee on the Capion massacre in February 2013. 

Your Honors, let us in Karapatan reiterate our clear and clarion calls and recommendations, and we implore that the Committee heeds and support these recommendations, lest we allow these killings and injustice continue:

 

  1. We reiterate our appeal for the revocation of EO 546, as well as the scrapping of a counter-insurgency program which has claimed the lives of 169 individuals and has affected thousands of our kababayan, including indigenous communities;
  2. We reiterate our call for the immediate pull-out of all military troops in civilian communities;
  3. We enjoin this committee to give uncompromising support for the families of the victims by mustering the political will to support the arrest and prosecution of all perpetrators;
  4. And we support our indigenous sisters and brothers in calling for the respect and promotion of their legitimate interests and rights to their ancestral lands, to the kind of land reform that will give genuine development for these communities, and to an end to large-scale mining activities especially of foreign big business in our lands. 

 

Thank you very much.