Tuesday, September 25, 2007

August 8, 2007

IPs baptizes new Defense chief with fire

The new Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. is greeted by an angry mob of indigenous peoples on his first day at work.

“This is a poor way to start your term,” Himpad Mangumalas, spokesperson of Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP) admitted. “But the indigenous peoples’ call for respect for human rights is urgent and resonant.”

The group decried the atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the Department of National Defense (DND). They lambasted the military for the death of indigenous peoples and various human rights abuses all pointing to them.

“We were not immune to the spate of extra-judicial killings attributed to state mercenaries,” he said. “We have been treated as ‘economic terrorists’ because we opposed development projects like mining in our land.”

Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Watch-Philippines has documented 130 killings among the indigenous peoples.

A case in point, KAMP said, is the atrocities exacted upon the indigenous communities in Sitio Malapiat, Rizal, Kalings. Last June 25, elements from the AFP and PNP riddled the community with bullets from high-powered weapons, killing nine and wounding four. All were members of indigenous tribes.

The residents fired in retaliation after seeing family members killed or wounded. Later in the afternoon, the same group of police and military returned and burned their homes to the ground.

“As if indigenous folk has no right of self-defense, they were arrested and charged with frustrated murder,” Mangumalas said.

This is but a peek to the kind of life the indigenous peoples endure in the countryside, according to KAMP. “To come to the city and picket is the last thing indigenous people want,” Mangumalas, a Lumad from Mindanao said. “But we have no choice. We wake up to bullets and bulldozers otherwise.”

The militant group challenged Teodoro to change the DND’s ill reputation.

Local and international human rights groups, even the government’s own Melo Commission, are all pointing fingers at the military for being behind the extra-judicial killings.

“We doubt that he can muster enough guts just to save face,” Mangumalas ended. “Like those who preceded him, he is part of the system we do so much to change.”

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