Tandag prelate slams policy vs tribespeople

A CATHOLIC prelate condemned the harassment and killing of tribesmen in Surigao Del Sur and blamed mining and logging activities as the root cause of the violence and displacement that has affected thousands in Eastern Mindanao.

“As priests of the Diocese of Tandag, together with our bishop, we all strongly condemn the terrorization, harassments and the killings of our lumad brothers and sisters, as well as denounce the root cause of it all,” Bishop Nereo Odchimar said in a pastoral letter posted on the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

The pastoral letter also called for the disarming and the arrest of the members of the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group that is allegedly behind the violence against tribesmen in the province.

The diocese said it firmly believes the violence against tribal folk, called lumad, is something “that has been extensively planned.”

There are strong allegations that the military “are in collusion” with big mining companies that would like to expand their operations in Surigao del Sur, the pastoral letter said.

“Our indigenous peoples who, ever since, have been one with nature, have lived in and survived out of their land of heritage, are now victims of those who are hungry of and greedy for power and wealth,” the statement read.

“One can see and understand that only those community of lumad who firmly stand to protect the forest and reject mining activities and anything that destroys nature were obviously the ones being hounded and intimidated supposedly by the aforementioned notorious group,” the pastoral letter read.

“Gathering all these, we can say that all this could be a work that has been extensively planned. Our indigenous people who, ever since, have been one with Nature, have lived in and survived out of their land of heritage, are now victims of those who are hungry and greedy for power and wealth,” it added.

The diocese lamented that lumads, who are the “heroes” in protecting the environment, are now the ones in need “of our combined and continuing support.”

The church officials reiterated its call on the government to stop prioritizing supposed development projects at the expense of indigenous peoples’ rights.

The church leaders also reiterated its appeal to local authorities to dismantle the “notorious” Magahat-Bagani force tagged in the killings of lumad leaders.

Last January, an agreement was reached during a “peace dialogue” between religious groups and the local authorities to disarm and abolish the militia group.

It was also agreed that a case will be filed against the Magahat-Bagani group in accordance with the due process of law.

According to the diocese, the responsibility to implement what had been agreed upon was given to the PNP and AFP to resolve the situation.

“Sadly, until now, the problem has not been solved,” the church officials said.

“Like all of us, the lumad have human rights as well. Let us therefore give them the justice that they deserve,” they added.


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