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HR group: PH military stood by during attacks

THE international Human Rights Watch accused the Philippine military of repeatedly standing aside while paramilitary forces attacked indigenous villages and schools in Mindanao.

“These forces have committed killings, torture, forced displacement, and harassment of residents, students, and educators with impunity,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement on its website.

“The Philippine government should urgently act to end these abuses and investigate alleged complicity by military personnel,” the group added.

“Paramilitaries in Mindanao have been terrorizing tribal people while the military at best does nothing,” said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. “The Aquino administration should not only be cracking down on the paramilitaries, but also on the military officers supporting them.”

Residents interviewed by HRW and government officials have linked military personnel to the two paramilitary groups involved in the attacks while Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel, publicly accused the military of creating and controlling the Magahat Bagani Force (the “Magahat”) paramilitary group.

“The military created a monster,” HRW quoted Pimentel as saying on Sept. 6.

HRW received reports that elements of the military were consistently nearby when the Alamara group carried out attacks in Davao del Norte.

In some instances, the troops accompanied paramilitaries as they harassed students and teachers of a tribal school in the town of Talaingod.

“The soldiers stayed outside the classrooms but allowed the Alamara to go inside, fully armed, accusing us of being supporters of the NPA [the communist New People’s Army],” said one student, referring to an incident in March.

Tribal and environmental groups have accused the military of using these paramilitaries, who are tribal members and thus familiar to local residents, to help clear ancestral areas to pave the way for mining companies and other business interests.

The government has designated the Caraga region, which includes Surigao del Sur, as the “mining capital of the Philippines.” Davao del Norte and Bukidnon are also known for rich mineral and natural resources that indigenous peoples claim as their ancestral domain.

On Sept. 1, the Magahat paramilitary group allegedly attacked a tribal school in Surigao del Sur province, torturing and killing an educator and two tribal leaders. The attack caused an estimated 4,000 residents to flee their homes, mostly to an evacuation camp in Tandag City, the capital of Surigao del Sur.

A paramilitary group called the Alamara has since 2014 committed violence against villages of indigenous peoples in the provinces of Bukidnon and Davao del Norte. The group has particularly harassed students at tribal schools run by religious and nongovernmental groups, claiming that these schools are used to indoctrinate tribal children in communist ideology.

School administrators respond that the government-accredited schools teach approved subjects attuned to the tribe’s culture.

These attacks have resulted in the closure of some schools and the disruption of classes. Hundreds of residents fled their villages and sought refuge at a Protestant church compound in Davao City, where children hold classes under trees and tents.

Save Our Schools Network, a Manila-based advocacy group, lists 52 attacks on schools in four Mindanao provinces from 2014 to mid-2015 by combined paramilitary and military forces.

While paramilitaries have attacked public schools, most of their targets are tribal schools in far-flung villages where the NPA is also present.

The Philippine government should join the Safe Schools Declaration, which was opened for endorsement in May in Oslo, Norway, and outlines concrete measures that all governments can take to better protect students, teachers, and schools from attack, Human Rights Watch said.


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