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Lumad evacuees kept from returning home

THE government has no plan to allow thousands of lumad evacuees displaced by conflict to return to their homes as the Department of Social Welfare and Development is proposing to build core shelters for them.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said  Tuesday  she classified the displaced indigenous people in Surigao del Sur as victims of civil unrest and would work with the provincial government to house the displaced families elsewhere.

No direction home. A lumad child stands beside photographs of slain and missing tribespeople outside an evacuation center in Tandag City. John Paolo Bencito

“We will coordinate with Gov. Johnny Pimentel for a location where we can build core shelters,” Soliman said.

Pimentel had been vocal about the military disrupting the peaceful lives of the lumad in their war on the communist New People’s Army.

He also slammed the military for creating a monster by supporting groups such as the  Magahat, Bagani, Alamara, and

Bolo Battalion, made of lumad tribesmen, to kill their own on suspicion that they are NPA sympathizers.

The military has denied the allegation amid continuing reports that some local military units have been coddling the suspects in the killing of three lumad leaders.

A total of 822 families or 4,191 persons, have been displaced from their homes as of Oct. 5.

Of the number, the DSWD said 814 families or 3,822 persons are staying at the three evacuation centers opened and managed by local government unit. The evacuees come from the towns of San Miguel, Tago, Marihatag, San Agustin, and Lianga.

“You will be provided with your own houses worth P30,000 to P50,000, wherein you will have your own CR with water lines, more comfortable than your conditions here,” Soliman promised the evacuees during a dialogue with them.

“With the proposal, the provincial LGU shall find a resettlement site while DSWD shall forge a partnership with the International Organization for Migration for the construction of the shelter units. DSWD shall also hire the IDPs, through cash for work, in the construction of their respective core houses,” she added.

Soliman said a total of P7,174,893.88 worth of relief assistance have been provided to the affected families from the combined resources of the DSWD, LGUs and non-government organizations.

The assistance from DSWD comprised of 2,824 family food packs, non-food items, nutri-cereals, and medical and burial assistance. Psycho-social processing activities were also held for the evacuees.

On Tuesday, a group of bishops lambasted President Beningo Aquino III for tolerating military operations that displaced the indigenous people.

“The country is, indeed, being destroyed. Our lumad who belong to the indigenous peoples are getting harassed, intimidated, threatened and killed. Their leaders are being extra-judicially exterminated because they defend their ancestral land and protect their people. The perpetrators, the military and their paramilitary forces, use as an excuse the pretext that these leaders are New People’s Army combatants or supporters,” said Bishop Elmer M. Bolocon of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the executive secretary of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum.

“The Aquino government cannot legitimize the killing of Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, and of Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo on  Sept. 1  in Lianga, Surigao del Sur by saying they supported the NPA,” the EBF statement said.

EBF also thrashed economist Solita Monsod who wrote in a column that only rebels and their supporters run the risk of being killed.

“Why are they being driven out of their ancestral lands? The reason is money,” the bishops said. “Big foreign mining corporations want to exploit the resources of the lands known for their richness in gold, nickel and copper. The military wants to make sure that that happens. However, they could not freely enter due to people’s resistance. Hence, the militarization of the area had to commence.”

“Money has become more important than people!” they added.

The bishops noted that lumad communities have been neglected for decades yet, after churches and non-governmental organizations took it on themselves to build schools, these have come under attack from the military and paramilitary groups.

They also slammed North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, who chairs the committee on indigenous people at the House of Representatives, for parroting military claims that the lumad refugees in Davao City are “trafficking” victims being held against their will and orchestrating a foiled “rescue” attempt that left several persons injured.

“We support the just demand of the lumad. It is their right to go back to their own homes and be assured to live in peace. This is the least that the government can do—leave them in peace,” the bishops said.

The human rights group Karapatan said  Tuesday  that the military was behind the closure of lumad schools on the suspicion that they were being used by communist rebels to “radicalize” the lumad.

Karapatan chairwoman Marie Hilao-Enriquez cited the case of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc., which received a memorandum from the barangay captain of White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, informing them that its schools in his bailiwick would be closed after it was proved to be an NPA tool.

“Barangay White Culaman, for almost a month now, has been virtually under Martial Law with the presence of soldiers from the 8th and 23rd Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army. Barangay captain [Felipe] Cabugnason has been mouthing the same orders coming from the military. Aside from the closure of lumad schools, residents were arrested, forcibly recruited to the Barangay Defense System, and had to report to the soldiers’ camp at the barangay hall for monitoring,” Enriquez said.

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