MANILA, September 22, 2015–Leaders of Lumad communities asked the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to “go beyond issuing a statement” condemning recent killing of Lumad leaders and to actively intervene in ending militarization of tribal communities.
Four indigenous people (IP) leaders and a 14-year-old student of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) urged Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who heads the CBCP Permanent Committee on Public Affairs, to convince the Catholic hierarchy to facilitate the revival of peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
According to Kakay Tolentino, an Alta-Dumagat from Aurora and representative of Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP), the peace talks would end military encampment at tribal schools and communities across the country. In Mindanao alone, the armed forces’ occupation of tribal communities have forced at least 3,000 Lumads to retreat in evacuation areas in Tandag City while 500 others took shelter in Davao City.
“The military tag students, teachers and leaders of ALCADEV as members of NPA that is why they occupy the school. In our view, peace talks is the only way to (clarify the misconceptions and convince them to pullout),” Tolentino said in the vernacular.
For the CBCP’s part, Pabillo agreed that peace talks between government and the CPP-NPA-NDF should be revived since the conflict is not only prevalent in Mindanao but across the country.
However, he clarified that Church leaders such as Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Caloocan Bishop-Emeritus Deogracias Iñiguez, among others, have already been part of several movements advocating for the revival of the peace talks.
“Calling for the revival of the peace talks is not something new. In fact, there are ongoing actions and Church leaders like Archbishop Ledesma and Bishop Iñiguez are already brokering for peace talks,” Pabillo said in Tagalog.
“The peace talks cannot completely solve the problem but it can lessen (the incidents) because the military claim that they are only after the NPA members,” the prelate pointed out.
Jhon Jhon Clava, a volunteer teacher at ALCADEV, said armed forces occupying their school have destroyed its facilities, forcing them to hold classes at evacuation areas.
“We really want the military forces to pullout from the school so that the students can return and continue their studies. From what we have learned, the soldiers have been using the classroom chairs as firewood,” Clava told Pabillo.
Meanwhile, Rachelle Libora said ALCADEV students like her are eager to go back to school since evacuation centers are not a conducive place for learning.
“At the evacuation areas, we sit on our slippers because we do not have chairs. We also want to go back to school because our vegetable gardens and our poultry animals need attention,” she said.
Aside from ALCADEV, military forces have also occupied the school of Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (Trifpss).
According to Dulphing Ogan, who flew in from Davao City, displaced Lumad people will be forced to stay longer at evacuation areas if military forces continue to occupy their schools and communities.
“We hope the bishops would go beyond issuing a statement and help us further by providing material support for the Lumads like relief goods and financial aid. We would also appreciate the visibility of the Catholic Church at the evacuation areas,” he said.
After the two-hour dialogue, Pabillo said his meeting with the Lumad leaders was an occasion for IPs and the Church to collaborate.
“I think we can attend to their expectations. It is possible to help them and support them especially when most of the Lumads will come to Manila by October,” he said.
Earlier, the CBCP demanded for an honest, thorough, impartial, and speedy investigation of the killing of ALCADEV school director Emerito Samarca and two Lumad leaders last September 1. Militia group Magahat Bagani Force was tagged as behind the murders. The group reportedly works with the 36th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. (CBCP News)