This statement was delivered by Congresswoman Eufemia Cullamat September 1, 2020 in the Webinar sponsored by the Zentrum für Mission und Ökumene – Nordkirche-wltweit, Hamburg, Germany.
On on this day, September 1, we commemorate the 5th year since the killing of two of our Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Jovillo Sinzo and ALCADEV Lumad school Director Emerito Samarca. They were killed for our principles, for our defense and development of ancestral lands according to our tradition and culture. Until today, there is no justice. Until today, our human rights and our right to self-determination continue to be violated.
The national minority communities all over the Philippines, from Cordillera to Mindanao, suffer the same situation. Until now, community leaders are charged with fabricated cases, arrested, and killed.
The violation of human rights has intensified since the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, the issuance of Executive Order 70, the establishment of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and the implementation of Memorandum 32, these have resulted in the killings of farmers and Lumad.
Our situation has worsened even more under the COVID pandemic. More than 170,000 people have contracted the virus, but the President still does not have a concrete plan to stop the spread of the virus. Instead of employing more health workers, more military and police officers were deployed which has resulted in widespread arrests of alleged violators of health protocols implemented by the Inter-Agency Task Force, which is also lead by the police and military.
The Lumad communities waited for aid from the government but what arrived were military operations and bombings of Lumad ancestral lands.
Even under community quarantine, military operations, and occupation of Lumad lands have continued. For instance, in our community, groups of soldiers occupy our communities even without the consent of residents. Without facemasks, gloves, or any form of protective equipment, they enter the homes of residents to subject them to questioning. Coming from more crowded parts of the country and going into remote Lumad communities that are COVID-free, these soldiers pose a threat to the health of Lumad residents. They also impose limitations on the movement of residents in the community, having them ask permission when going to their farms, interfering with the livelihood of the people. The encampment of soldiers has also brought about harassment against our women and children.
Despite limited resources to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, counterinsurgency operations continue in the countryside, with continuous bombings on ancestral lands. On July 15 at around 2 AM, 8 bombs were dropped near a Lumad community in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, causing trauma among residents, forcing 37 families to temporarily evacuate to a nearby community for their safety.
Under the guise of Covid-19 response, helicopters flying over ancestral lands dropped leaflets packed with candy in small plastic bags. However, these contained not just COVID-related information but propaganda material for rebel surrenderees. Why are we being urged to surrender when we are merely defending our rights as indigenous people?
We are also not spared from red-tagging and misinformation campaigns by the military and what we believe are state-backed online pages. Flyers tagging our leaders, Lumad school teachers, and advocates as terrorists are being circulated online and on the ground. Online pages are spreading misinformation about Lumad evacuees seeking sanctuary in UCCP Haran in Davao City, posting fake news, and malicious posts about the health situation of the Lumad in the evacuation.
Illegal arrests also continue against Lumad land defenders despite the quarantine. In Surigao del Sur, on March 19 they arrested Lumad leader Gloria Tumalon, my sister, on fabricated charges. On May 25, some 40 police officers suddenly entered two Manobo communities in Surigao del Sur and arrested one community member, Eric Enriquez, on trumped-up charges. In Balingasag, Misamis Oriental, on June 26, police arrested seven (7) Lumad, including community leader Datu Reynaldo Ayuma, members of the Lumad organization Kalumbay – Northern Mindanao on trumped-up charges. Police forcibly entered their homes without a warrant. They were evacuees since the year 2017 when they were forced to leave their communities and seek temporary shelter in the city due to military abuses in their community.
Forced and fake surrenders also abound. In Surigao del Sur, the paramilitary leader turned fake datu (chieftain) Marcos Bocales, one of the masterminds behind the September 1 Lianga Massacre, ordered for the surrender of Lumad community members, giving them a deadline to clear their names to receive livelihood support. Under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), large rewards and aid are given for every rebel surrenderee causing a surge of innocent civilians being forced by the military to surrender as rebels or pose as fake surrenderees. Due to military harassment and coercion, and the lack of livelihood due to military occupation, civilians are forced to surrender to the military out of fear. In truth, many of those forced to surrender receive very little to none of the promised aid or livelihood support. Essentially, this has turned into a money-making scheme for those in power.
Attacks against Lumad schools have also intensified. Out of 215 Lumad schools all over Mindanao, 176 schools have been forcibly closed due to government attacks, depriving about 5,000 children to their right to education. These schools are the fruits of our collective efforts, from parents and community members in our communities together with the help of church people and concerned groups. We have suffered for so long because the government has never provided schools in our communities, being tricked into unfair agreements and being cheated of our ancestral lands so we decided to build our own. Now our children can read and write in support of the defense of our ancestral lands. But now that we have education, the government itself wants to close our schools, forcing us to replace these with military-built schools. This violates our right to self-determination. In truth, they want to close our schools to pave the way for the entry of large extractive projects in ancestral lands.
On top of all of these attacks, an even larger threat to us indigenous people are the recent passing of the Anti-Terror Law this July 2020. Many people opposed the Anti-Terror Law, including us Lumad, because the law is so vague and broad that it can and will be used against dissenters, critics, environmental defenders, and us indigenous people. Under the Terror Law, so much power is given to the police and military, that we see how it can be used and abused to silence any form of dissent, to silence our resistance to imperialist plunder in our ancestral lands.
Given the current situation, we Lumad have not backed down. In the face of intensifying attacks, we continue to stand our ground, strengthen our unity, and speak about our situation despite the treats. Our communities have come up with our own initiatives to meet our needs amid the pandemic. There have been initiatives to make our own facemasks for evacuees to use, in communities, Lumad school teachers and community members have launched education campaigns on the Coronavirus, and communities have intensified the cultivation of their communal farms to ensure adequate and nutritious food for all. We continue to speak out about the experiences of our communities, participate in mobilizations calling on the government to pull out military troops in Lumad communities, and calling for health solutions and not military interventions in responding to the pandemic.
We call on your help from the international community to amplify our calls for justice and accountability for the continuing unjust conditions face by indigenous people in the Philippines and all over the world.
We as Lumad have stood for our ancestral lands and rights as indigenous people for centuries since. Today, we remain firm in our resolve, standing with all indigenous groups, with your support, to defend ancestral lands and forward our right to self-determination.
Congresswoman Eufemia Cullamat
Member of the House of Representatives, Philippine Congress