To: PAUL supporters
Please read this brief report about the findings of the Mission to Mindanao in the Philippines, in which I participated.
Please contact me to discuss it further, I also encourage your union or you to take part in the next one, which is now being tentatively organised for February 18 (arrival) to February 26 (departure), 2018.
I have video and still photos available.
0418 312 301
Report on International Solidarity Mission to Mindanao, the Philippines
November 15 – November 24, 2017
On November 24, 2017, our International Solidarity Mission reported to a media conference at the United Church of Christ of the Philippines Haran Centre, Davao City, to convey deep concern at the rapidly worsening human rights situation we had witnessed in Mindanao. Twenty internationals took part in the Mission, coming from the United States, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
To underline this concern, we had just heard that the previous morning, November 23, at 6am, that unidentified armed men had entered the house of Vivencio Sahay, the 1st Barangay chairperson of the Peasant organisation KMP in Agusan del Norte, and shot him dead. Mr Sahay is the fifth peasant leader to be assassinated in five months in the Caraga Region in the north-east of Mindanao.
Marawi City evacuees
Based on our interviews with evacuees from Marawi City, now living as internally displaced persons at four different locations, our Mission called for the immediate return of all these evacuees to Marawi City so that they can start to rebuild their lives and their city. They must be compensated for the loss of property and income since they evacuated on May 24, 2017, with virtually no possessions.
Marawi City citizens must be fully involved in any plans to rehabilitate the city. There is a serious danger that their land will be grabbed by large scale property developers, which would trigger a larger political conflict in that region. At this stage the government has declared 75 per cent of Marawi City to be a ‘military reservation’ and are denying civilian access to it.
Martial Law should be lifted immediately, not when scheduled on December 31, 2017, because it simply gives the military impunity across all of Mindanao, because the fighting is now over in Marawi City, and because it could be extended in 2018, and even extended to the whole of the Philippines.
Bukidnon Manobo people and their ancestral domain
Our Mission travelled to Quezon, Bukidnon, to meet Manobo tribal communities who are claiming title to their ancestral domain, one community through a ‘kampuhan’ (a protest camp) on the side of the highway, and another community by successful cultivation of a section of land formerly planted to sugar by the Busco Sugar Mills. The organisation of the Manobo people is TINDOGA. These Lumad communities are under intense pressure from the landlord families who own Busco Sugar Mills and control local and provincial politics, to abandon their claims. The day after our Mission left the community it was raided by 30 Blue Guards from Busco Sugar Mills, seeking out the Datu. Fortunately they could not find him. The previous Datu was assassinated on the nearby highway in February 2017. The right of these communities to their Ancestral Domain is established in law, but it is denied to them in practice, except when determined campaigning sometimes achieves at least part of their goals.
Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries – Tagum City, Davao del Norte
These Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries are asserting their long-standing claims to land distribution under the 1991 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. They are doing this now by holding a ‘kampuhan’ outside the Dept of Agrarian Reform office in Tagum City as well as in Manila. Their lawful claims have been frustrated for 25 years through the efforts of banana plantation companies such as Lapanday and Tadeco, owned by rich landlord families, who are also dominant in local and provincial politics. These landlords continue to defy direct Court orders for the ARBs to be installed on their land. During their campaign for their land, the ARBs have been victimised by the banana companies.
The Mission visited four political prisoners held at the Rehabilitation Centre at Davao del Norte, including Amelia Pond, the Administrator of the Lumad Schools Program. Ms Pond continues to be held on ludicrous murder charges after more than one year. It is obvious that she is in detention as part of the outrageous repression of the Lumad Schools. Amelia and the other civilian peasant leaders in detention on trumped up charges should be released immediately.
The Mission also visited two Lumad Schools operated by Misfi in South Cotobato, at Banga and Kisante. Talking to students, teachers, and Barangay officials, Mission participants could see the great promise embodied in these remote Lumad schools. And they could also see the malicious repression of these schools by the military. This repression of the Lumad Schools is an international scandal that must cease.
Anniversary of Maguindanao Massacre
The Mission also organised a special event to commemorate the 58 people massacred by the Ampatuan family in November 2009. This included a mass at the St Francis of Assisi Parish, in Davao City and a candlelight assembly in front of the church calling for an end to impunity. There were 32 media workers and four lawyers killed in the massacre, and speakers at the ceremony included the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and the Union of Peoples Lawyers Mindanao. Nine years later, no one has been convicted for the massacre. The event emphasised the urgent need to End Impunity.
Surveillance, false arrests, extra-judicial killings
Because the International Solidarity Mission had no time to travel to Soccsksargen and Caraga Regions, community leaders from these two areas came to Davao city to brief us. A very alarming picture emerged of intense surveillance of Lumad and Peasant leaders. The data from this surveillance is then used to organize raids on homes, planting of false evidence such as explosives or firearms, and then the laying of trumped up charges and detention without bail. Clearly in the case of Vivencio Sahay, this surveillance led to his extra-judicial killing.
The repression of these community organisations is motivated by land-grabbing corporations run by rich landlord families and foreign mining corporations. These logging, plantation and mining industries are now a real threat to the ecosystems of the Pantaron Range and its great rivers, and to the Ancestral Domain cared for properly for thousands of years by Lumad tribes.
I myself expressed alarm at the recent Australian government commitment of Special Forces to Mindanao as part of the misnamed ‘war on terror’. In fact there is an ongoing war in Mindanao against the Bangsamoro People, the Lumads and the Peasants. In Australia, fascism is not popular, and we will campaign against all military assistance provided to a President who is now bragging that he is a fascist.
Instead we call for a genuine re-engagement of the Philippine government in the Peace Talks with the National Democratic Front, and for a proper conclusion to the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
This is the best way to address the deep roots of social conflict in the Philippines. The international community should strongly support the royal Norwegian Government in its longstanding facilitation of these peace talks. For we the participants in this International Solidarity Mission, we are already committed to a larger and longer Mission to Mindanao in February 2018.
This next Mission is urgent because the rate of human rights abuses by the military, police, their militias, and company security guards and goons is increasing, and there is a large scale increase in troop deployments to south-east Mindanao. There is a very real danger of much larger warfare in the now five decades social conflict in the Philippines, unless the international community can effectively support negotiated and peaceful solutions to the roots of the social conflict.
Chairperson, International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
December 12, 2017
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