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UN accepts call for Lumad probe

UNITED Nations officials have received a request to investigate the killing of Lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur amid reports that a paramilitary group under the control of the military was responsible for the summary executions, a human rights group said Sunday.

“The UN envoys and special rapporteurs have all acknowledged receipt of our submissions,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan.

The human rights group asked the UN to investigate the killings of Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo, and school director Emerito Samarca on Sept. 1 in Surigao del Sur.

Karapatan also asked the UN to investigate the evacuation of almost 3,000 Lumad in the same province.

Letters were sent to Chaloka Beyani, UN special rapporteur on the promotion of the human rights of internally displaced persons; Christof Heyns, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, special rapporteur on the rights of the indigenous peoples.

“We are asking the UN Human Rights Council to investigate and recommend action to the Philippine government on these issues,” Palabay said.

“We want international bodies to know what is happening in Mindanao—that the Lumad, in defense of their land, are being killed and forced to leave their communities,” Palabay said.

A spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines denied any involvement in the killings and said attempts by leftists to “internationalize” the problem was expected.

“The attempt to internationalize the issue and demonize government… in regard to the matter is an expected move on their part. It is obviously part of their agenda to… besmirch the AFP’s reputation,”  Armed Forces spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said.

Major Gen. Oscar Lacto, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, blamed the killings on a tribal war—even though the Lumad tribesmen in Mindanao have no history of tribal war.

An Army spokesman, Col. Benjie Hao, also said that three rogue soldiers involved in the rape of a 14-year-old Lumad girl, would be subjected to court martial proceedings after a board of inquiry found prima facie evidence that they violated the Articles of War. Hao refused to identify the soldiers, however.

As recounted to the UN envoys, Palabay said members of the Magahat Bagani forces, a paramilitary group under the 36th and 75th Infantry Battalion of the Army, gunned down Campos in front of the whole community in the town of Lianga in Surigao del Sur in the morning of Sept. 1.

The armed men then took Sinzo from the crowd and beat his arms and legs with wooden sticks before shooting him.

Samarca was found dead inside the classroom of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), with his throat slit from ear to ear and gunshot wounds in the chest.

“The 36th Infantry Battalion (IB), 74th IB and the Special Forces were at the periphery,” Palabay said, quoting the accounts of witnesses.

“While the AFP can lie through their teeth about their involvement on the killings and all other atrocities of its paramilitary groups, the motives are crystal clear: eliminate those who are perceived as enemies of the state, including those who fight for their land and their rights. There is no way the government can deny this as long as it implements counter-insurgency programs like Oplan Bayanihan. The paramilitary groups are one way of tackling this dirty war against the Filipino people. It is no wonder why the AFP has not disbanded these groups—because they work together,” Palabay said.

The killing of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, the massacre of the Capion family, the murder of Datu Jimmy Liguyon and the Tabugol brothers were carried out by paramilitary forces that go by many names—the Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), the Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary, the Investment Defense Force, Bagani Forces, Magahat Bagani, the Alde Salusad group and the De la Mance group, Karapatan told the UN envoys.

As early as 2012, Heyns and then UN special rapporteur on human rights defender Margaret Sekaggya sounded the alarm on the role of the paramilitary groups in killings, Palabay said.

In the same year, the UN envoys recommended that the government disband paramilitary groups that perpetuate serious human rights abuses.

“The Aquino government has rejected this and even… allowed the proliferation of these groups as force multipliers. We reiterate our position that the political killings happening right now are part of the government’s policy and not simply an internal conflict among indigenous people’s as the government wants the public to believe,” Palabay said.

The leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, meanwhile, said the Lumad leaders ended up dead and their communities were terrorized after they failed to support an anti-communist event organized by the government called the WNI Serbisyo Caravan.

“These are no coincidences. These deaths and displacements were direct results of Oplan Bayanihan and WNI Serbisyo Caravan,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes.

Citing official government documents, Reyes said the Lumads and indigenous people were targeted by the government because it believes that 90 percent of guerrilla bases are located in IP communities.

“In the guise of peace and public service, the government launched the WNI Serbisyo Caravan to support its militarization campaign to eliminate insurgency,” Reyes said.

A week before the WNI Serbisyo Caravan spearheaded by the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Agriculture, Public Works, Health and other agencies arrived in the targeted IP communities, the government agencies and the military would invite the IPs to support the program, he said.

A week after each WNI Serbisyo Caravan, a massive militarization would occur in the targeted areas, he added.

“The stated priority areas of the counter-insurgency campaign are the same areas experiencing heavy militarization and displacement of communities,” Reyes said.

Reyes added that Bayan has obtained a Powerpoint presentation from a government agency that belies President Benigno Aquino III’s claim that there is no government policy targeting the Lumad of Mindanao.

One week after the “peace caravans” were held in Surigao, on Sept. 1, three Lumad leaders were killed, Reyes said.

“The deaths of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo, the displacement of the Lumad from Talaingod and Paquibato, and the fact that they are all from the so-called priority areas for the government counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan and WNI are no coincidence,” Reyes said.

The Palace said Sunday it supports calls for an inter-agency probe into the killings.

In response to a call by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines  that the government investigate the killings, a Palace spokesman said the Justice Department supports calls for an inter-agency probe.

“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,” CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement Friday.

The bishops said they were disturbed by how the government “has been quick to exonerate the militia group of wrongdoing.”

“This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and justice,” Villegas said.

“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 added.

On Sunday, Senator Nancy Binay became the third senator to call for a congressional investigation into the Lumad killings, following similar calls by Senators Loren Legarda and Grace Poe. With Sandy Araneta and Macon Ramos-Araneta

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