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‘Govt covering up lumad slays’

THE Palace came under heavy fire  Tuesday  for covering up human rights violations in Mindanao after it refused to invite UN special rapporteurs to the country to investigate a spate of killings of lumad leaders whom the military accused of being communist sympathizers.

“Why is the Aquino government refusing to issue invitations to relevant UN rapporteurs who want to look into the spate of lumad killings in the Philippines? What is the government trying to hide?” asked Renato Reyes, Bayan secretary-general.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the government cannot accommodate a request from the UN envoys to visit the country and investigate the killings and other human rights abuses against tribesmen in Mindanao.

He said the government was letting its relevant agencies investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.

“What is the DFA doing that is so important that it cannot accommodate requests by international human rights defenders who are alarmed by the extrajudicial killings committed by the AFP and paramilitary groups?” Reyes shot back.

“By refusing to issue invitations to relevant UN bodies, the Aquino regime is continuing its official coverup of the gross human rights violations under its watch. The AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and PNP [Philippine National Police] investigations will amount to nothing,” he added.

Earlier, when Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay made public her organization’s request for help from the UN special rapporteurs, a military spokesman immediately denounced the group’s attempt to “internationalize” the issue and “to vilify” the Armed Forces and the government.

The Commission on Human Rights and the Justice Department have voiced alarm over the killings, and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima formed a team to investigate the incidents.

CHR Chairman Chito Gascon debunked the claim of the military that the lumad killings were a result of a tribal war.

Notwithstanding the Justice Department investigation, Karapatan and Bayan officials expressed fears of a whitewash, and noted that De Lima would be unable to meet her commitment to bring those responsible to justice because she is expected to resign shortly to run for senator in 2016.

Reyes also slammed the CHR officials sent to Mindanao who were keen on investigating the reported presence of the communist rebels in lumad communities, and not the killings.

“The CHR probe also appears to be a disappointment for the lumad victims,” Reyes said.

“The results of the DoJ-NBI probe remain uncertain at this point that De Lima is on her way out. In any case, the presence of international investigators would strengthen the cause of human rights… Alas, that is not the concern of this government,” he added.

Gabriela Reps. Emmi de Jesus and Luz Ilagan slammed the Aquino administration for the government’s nonstop war on the indigenous communities in Mindanao.

“More than 100 participants of a lumad school celebration are being held by the 68th Infantry Battalion and the Alamara. The armed groups are holding the lumad who were planning to celebrate the 11th foundation anniversary gathering for the Salugpungan Lumad School and Bwalawan Festival,” De Jesus said.

“We strongly condemn this recent case of harassment. This is proof that the AFP and paramilitaries continue to operate with impunity,” Ilagan said.

De Jesus said Aquino, the AFP, and the Department of Education headed by Secretary Armin Luistro should be held accountable if the slightest harm should befall the teachers, students and parents.

“President Aquino, you can no longer deny that your soldiers are harassing the lumad. Allow the school to hold their activities in peace, and pull out the military and its paramilitary goons to give justice to the deaths of the Salugpungan leaders,” De Jesus said.

Witnesses to the killing of three lumad leaders in Sitio Han-ayan, Lianga town are ready to tell all during Senate hearings in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, on  Oct. 1 and 2, said Senator Teofisto Guingona III.

Guingona, who will preside over the hearings, said the subcommittee on justice hoped to ferret out the truth behind the grisly killings.

The hearings are also expected to cover earlier killings and the forced displacement of  lumad tribes in Mindanao.

An estimated 3,000 displaced lumads from five municipalities have fled to Tandag City fearing the escalation of violence allegedly perpetrated by the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary unit, which has been linked to Army units in the area. The communities they left behind have turned into ghost towns.

Emerito Samarca, a teacher at the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, was found in a classroom with his throat slit on Sept. 1. Dionel Campos, chairman of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod ; and Bello Sinzo were publicly executed on the same day by heavily armed men.

Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel had asked the Senate to hold its hearings in his province so that more witnesses could participate.

Senators Aquilino Pimentel III and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV are expected to join Guingona during the hearings.

On Tuesday, Save Our Schools and Salinlahi picketed the Department of Education offices in Pasig City to denounce the agency’s alleged plan to shut down lumad schools in Mindanao.

Education officials from Davao del Norte had admitted in Senate hearings that there was such a plan and that it had been reached during a meeting with intelligence officials.

Reina Requioma, SOS spokeswoman, accused the Education Department of being part of the military’s anti-insurgency campaign, Oplan Bayanihan.

“The DepEd celebrates peace month this September while lumad children, teachers and communities continue to live in constant fear from rights abuses of the military and state sponsored paramilitary groups. DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro should first and foremost understand that genuine peace means zero presence of armed forces in schools and communities of the lumad,” Requioma said.

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