MANILA, Sept. 11, 2015— The Catholic hierarchy joined in the chorus of condemnation against the killings of Lumads in Mindanao and criticized the government’s response to the issue.
In a statement issued Friday, CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas said it is “disturbing” how the government quickly exonerated those allegedly behind the killings.
“This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and justice,” Villegas said.
According to him, such declarations inspire credence only after a reliable and trustworthy investigation by impartial and competent persons shall have taken place.
“If made before any such investigation, they disturbingly suggest a refusal to hold accountable those to whom the administration so eagerly extends its mantle of protection,” he said.
President Benigno Aquino III in a forum on Wednesday said the government has “no campaign to kill anybody”, as he defends the military’s alleged involvement in the killings.
The much-awaited statement from Aquino, however, dismayed various human rights groups, saying his response was inadequate.
The bishops are also backing calls for the government to urgently investigate the killings of three Lumad leaders by alleged paramilitary forces in Surigao del Sur.
“The CBCP asks the government for an honest, thorough, impartial, and speedy investigation so that the guilty may be held to account for their wrong-doing,” Villegas said.
The CBCP chief also said the use of militia groups for the government’s counter-insurgency campaign is already “troubling.”
“If militia groups cannot fit within a structure of clear authority and command by legitimate state authority, they should not be tolerated, much less employed as mercenaries by the State,” he added.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) earlier said the Lumad communities are under attack because of their determination to protect their ancestral lands.
Sr. Francis Añover, RMP coordinator, said the Lumad people continue to be victims of massive land grabbing and displacement because of large-scale mining operations and the expansion of huge plantations.
“The Philippine Army and its para-military groups commit grave human rights abuses as clearing up operations for the entry of big foreign and local corporations,” Añover said.
The bishops said indigenous peoples are already disadvantaged in a number of ways and the government’s failure to protect their rights “only underscores their plight as marginalized.”
“This cannot be just. This cannot be the will of God,” Villegas said. (R. Lagarde / CBCPNews)