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A disgraceful stand

THE campaign of terror against the lumad or tribal communities in Mindanao puts the Aquino administration squarely on the wrong side of a situation that pits naked power against human rights.

Despite a condemnation of the killings and forced evacuations by the Commission on Human Rights, the Palace insisted that reports of abuses against tribesmen in Surigao del Sur were not true and even reiterated military claims that most communist rebels are indigenous people called lumad.

“A crime happened there. It’s a law enforcement issue,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said of the summary execution of three lumad leaders by militiamen linked to the Armed Forces.

The presidential spokesman offered no basis for refuting eyewitness accounts of the executions other than to say that the Armed Forces had denied any involvement and that “General Hernando Iriberri [the Armed Forces chef] said so.”

Earlier, the chairman of the CHR, Chito Gascon, denounced the killings and called for “government attention” to the plight of the lumad.

“There have been horrendous atrocities and crimes perpetrated by persons who should be identified,” Gascon said.

Gascon said it is clear that the killings were actually executions.

“It is clear to us, from the photos alone, that these were extra-judicial killings. And we condemn it,” he said.

Officials from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts issued a similar condemnation, declaring that “the murder of our indigenous people is the murder of our people.”

Last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs also admitted that it had taken no action to invite special rapporteurs from the United Nations to investigate the killings, despite a request from a human rights group that they look into allegations that lumad leaders are being killed by a paramilitary group working for the Army in Mindanao.

UN special rapporteurs can conduct a country visit only if there is a formal invitation from the state.

Karapatan, a human rights group, had sent a request to the UN special rapporteurs to investigate the lumad killings and urged the Aquino administration to allow the envoys to visit.

But a spokesman from the Foreign Affairs Department said no such invitation has been issued to the UN.

The question is, why not? If indeed there were no truth to allegations that the paramilitary groups were organized by the Armed Forces, what is the harm in having UN envoys verify this? We would think the administration would welcome the opportunity to clear itself and the Armed Forces of any wrongdoing in the lumad killings. That it has not done so is disgraceful indeed—indicating that the administration has something to hide, after all.

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