Karapatan to PH gov’t: Invite UN, EU rights experts to investigate situation of IPs in UCCP Haran and in PH

Human rights group Karapatan asserted that an independent and impartial investigation by the United Nations (UN) human rights mechanism and other platforms engaged in human rights issues in the European Union (EU) on the situation of the indigenous peoples seeking sanctuary at the Haran Center run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City is “important to shed light on the longstanding impacts of military operations in indigenous and peasant communities in Mindanao — not on the basis of the recycled lies by Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.” 

Last Friday, Galvez called on the UN and the EU to conduct an investigation on the UCCP - Haran Center, which he said was allegedly being used to solicit support from international donors and a “propaganda of insurgents abroad.”

“Several local and international NGOs, as well as journalists and a UN independent expert, have interacted and documented the stories of the Lumad communities in sanctuary at the UCCP – Haran compound. The threats and harassment from State forces continue to hound them even while they were forcibly displaced from their communities due to military operations. Such statements by Galvez have been issued by other military officials in the past, which have been invalidated by independent fact-finding efforts and experts,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. 

In January 2015, some 800 Ata Manobo from Talaingod and Kapalong, Davao del Norte and San Fernando, Bukidnon started to evacuate from their communities to UCCP – Haran compound in Davao City due to atrocities committed by the military led by 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army headed by then General Eduardo Año and its paramilitary group Alamara. The military harassed teachers and students of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) Academy in Kapalong. A 14-year-old girl was raped by members of the 68th Infantry Battalion 6f the Philippine Army in Talaingod. Five male residents in San Fernando were also tortured by the military – beaten, their heads wrapped with cellophanes. 

On July 23, 2015, Rep. Nancy Catamco of North Cotabato brought anti-riot policemen, paramilitary members and buses to force the Lumad evacuees to return to their communities; the indigenous peoples refused to go with Catamco. The incident resulted in a skirmish between the evacuees and the police and paramilitary elements. 

On February 24, 2016, evacuees woke up to the smell of gasoline poured on the canvas roofs of their tents at the evacuation center. Five makeshift houses were already consumed by the fire after it was put out. Five were hurt during the incident, with three needing hospitalization, including two children. The children suffered burns when the canvas roofs melted and fell on the children’s feet. Some also had burns in their hands. Members of paramilitary groups are suspected as perpetrators of the incident.

From 2015 to 2016, numerous trumped up complaints and charges were filed against indigenous people’s leaders and human rights advocates supporting the evacuees at the UCCP – Haran. All of these complaints were dismissed, including the set of charges filed against 15 activists, including Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, in July 2016. 

On January 25, 2020, bolo-wielding members of Alamara started to tear down the walls of the UCCP – Haran center and entered its premises, days after the resolution of the Davao Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) demanding the closure of the church compound, citing as basis violations of indigenous peoples’ rights allegedly being committed inside the facility.

In his end-of-mission statement in August 2015, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons Dr. Chaloka Beyani said that “the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their (Armed Forces of the Philippines) 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. Schools have reportedly been closed and/or occupied by the AFP or Alamara, hampering the access to education of indigenous children.”

Palabay said that an independent investigation by the UN Human Rights Council, as a follow-up to Beyani’s mission, findings and recommendations, is in order, five years after his visit, with the continuing repression of the evacuees and indigenous communities in Mindanao. In the June 2020 report of UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, she cited that “the emphasis on national security, intelligence-gathering and red-tagging in the execution of Executive Order No. 70, however, has hampered local civil society, including church groups, from tending to the humanitarian needs of the communities for fear of being portrayed as NPA affiliates.”

“Since Beyani’s visit, and despite several requests from various special procedures for official visits after, the Philippine government continues to disregard these requests and even insults some of the UN independent experts. If Galvez wants to invite the UN and the EU, then we call on the Philippine government to officially invite UN special rapporteurs and allow them and human rights bodies or mechanisms of the European Union to visit the UCCP – Haran center and conduct independent and impartial investigations on the plight of indigenous peoples amid the continuing government-sponsored repression and attacks against them,” Palabay concluded.