Sunday, December 2, 2007

Mining is root of military operations in Lumad lands in Surigao

In Lianga, Surigao del Sur, some 1,500 Lumad residents evacuated from their homes. Not because they were hit by typhoon Lando or Mina, but the onslaught of military operations.

At present, 254 families or 1,511 individuals (492 are children) are now housed in evacuation centers. The majority of evacuees are Lumad indigenous peoples. Barangay Diatagon and San Agustin in Lianga is the ancestral land of Lumad tribes.
“There’s no denying the fact that more than a thousand Lumad tribesmen fled their homes in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Equally irrefutable is that military elements are occupying the fled residents’ homes,” Himpad Mangumalas, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP) spokesperson said. “It’s absurd that the military blame anyone else for the evacuations, when they are the ones seen gallivanting in the area,” Mangumalas, a Lumad leader, added.

Since November 1, military men were seen in the Lumad communities of Simowao and Emerald in Lianga. They mounted makeshift tents at the the center of the community, some living inside resident’s houses and in the tribal school. There were about a hundred soldiers encamped in the village.

In a news article in the Inquirer, Philippine Army’s 401st Brigade commander Col. Jose Vizcarra denied that they are occupying civilian homes, adding that the reports of evacuation are propaganda of the Communist Party. They said that the military are occupying a New People’s Army camp site.

“This is an outright lie. The military encamped on homes of civilians and schools duly recognized by the Department of Education,” Mangumalas counters. The Lumad school in Lianga is a National Literacy Awardee.

No stranger to evacuation

Renewed military operations are like a recurring nightmare to the residents of Lianga. In the late 1980’s Diatagon residents were forced to evacuate in the course of military operations against armed rebels. Again in April to May 2005, full-blown military operations caused 2,241 individuals to flee their homes.

“To survive military operations, the people had to evacuate. These people have a long history with the military, and their ruthlessness sowed fear,” Mangumalas claimed. In the 2005 military operations in Diatogon, 1,234 cases of human rights violations including killing, torture, aerial bombardment, and enforced disappearances were recorded by human rights group KARAPATAN-Caraga.

“The military does not heed human rights. Aside from occupying the resident’s homes, they regulated civilian activities, even planting in their own lands. They have caused fear, insecurity, and hunger,” Mangumalas said. “This humanitarian crisis is a moral issue to President Arroyo and her armed forces. The cold-blooded military watched children walk 20 kilometers to the town.”

Guarding private interests

Surigao del Sur is rich in forest and mineral resources, all of which are found in Manobo ancestral lands. Benguet Corportion (BenCorp) aquired rights in the 1980s to mine 6,000 hectares of coal lands surrounding Lianga, called the Surigao Coal Project. The same area is the bewailed military operation site.

“Militarization is a prelude to commence ‘development zones’. They smooth out any dissenters by fear or death,” Mangumalas said. “Massive military operations coincides were the government pronounces as a priority economic zone. As for President Arroyo, mining is her pet project” Mangumalas added.

KAMP claims that renewed military activities in Surigao del Sur will facilitate the entry of mining companies in Lianga. “The military is scraping the bottom of the barrel to justify their terrorism in indigenous people’s lands. It is clear to us that they are razing indigenous people’s lands to pave the way for corporate interests.” ##