Last September 8, 2015, when confronted by questions at an Inquirer forum regarding the killings of a Lumad teacher and community leaders, President Aquino responded that there was no policy to kill anybody and that what they were doing was serving the people. “Serving the people does not entail killing any of our citizens,” the President added.
As usual, the President’s response was evasive and sought to downplay or deny altogether the problem of Lumad killings and forced displacement.
Can there really be no policy targeting the Lumad communities of Midnanao at a time when the body count is climbing and refugees are growing in number?
Recent pronouncements by the military as well as a Powerpoint presentation from a government agency would show that the President is lying when it comes the so-called absence of a “policy” against the Lumad.
The presentation called Whole of Nation Initiative, believed to be originally from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Proces (OPAPP), shows a concerted effort by various government agencies carrying out the Aquino government’ counter-insurgency campaign called Oplan Bayanihan, a program patterned after the US Counter Insurgency Guide. The focus regions and timetable cited in the presentation coincides with the regions severely affected by militarization.
What the presentation and recent AFP pronouncements reveal is that there is indeed a policy to target the Lumad of Mindanao. It shows the complicity of other government agencies in the current Lumad crisis. The policy has had disastrous effects on Lumad leaders and their communities. That the President refuses to acknowledge that this policy exists means that there will be no meaningful action or resolution that can be expected from this administration.
Oplan Bayanihan calls for the “whole of nation approach” and “people-centric approach” in carrying out its counter-insurgency campaign. The entire state apparatus, including civilian agencies, is being mobilized in the counter-insurgency drive. The program does not aim to address actual root causes of armed conflict, focusing instead on high-profile programs such as the conditional cash transfer program and medical missions. The WNI compliments the military drive through the use of psy-war and deception.
The WNI clearly spells out the target groups and priority regions for government’s counter-insurgency program. Various government agencies are being tapped to undertake “serbisyo caravans” to compliment “focused military operations” in these target areas. The thrusts are consistent with Oplan Bayanihan’s “whole of nation” and “people centered” approach. Each agency is assigned a particular service to provide (e.g. DSWD for CCT, DoH for medical missions and so on).
Based on the Powerpoint presentation, the priority areas for the “caravans” are the same areas and sectors identified by the military as the base of the New People’s Army. It uses an example the Eastern Mindanao regoin and echoes the public statements of the Eastern Mindanao Command that 74% of the members of the NPA in the region are from the ranks of indigenous peoples and that 90% of the NPA guerilla base are in ancestral domains of the IP communities. The thrusts of the counter-insurgency program therefore has to be “IP-centric”.
Those insisting that the IP’s are merely “caught in the crossfire” should re-exmine their position because as far as the AFP and other civilian agencies are concerned, the IP’s and their communities and schools ARE the real targets.
The stated priority areas of the counter-insurgency campaign are the same areas experiencing heavy militarization and displacement of communities. These include the Lumad from Paquibato and Talaingod who have been forced to seek refuge at the UCCP Haran in Davao City. Also on the priority list are the Lumad areas in Surigao del Sur where militarization has been intense and where the ALCADEV Lumad school is located.
Human rights groups in Caraga have reported to us that on August 25, simultaneous “peace/serbisyo caravans” were launched Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte (consistent with the timetable in the PPT presentation). Based on the accounts, the caravans were initiated by the AFP’s and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and included agencies such as the DOH, DILG, NCIP and DEPED. There were programs and public meetings in Marihatag and Lianga. The program included presentations to the public of alleged of rebel returnees.
The organizers tried to invite local org MAPASU but the group was busy with preparations for the Alternative Learning Center for Alcadev foundation day.
One Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, deputy spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, over local radio station DXBR, challenged Karapatan, ALCADEV, TRIFPSS and other progressive and militant organizations in Caraga to join in the peace caravan “if you are really for peace”. Martinez emphasized that 70% of the NPA are Lumad because the children were being taught by NPA.
The “invitation” may have actually been a veiled threat. Those who did not welcome and participate in the caravan are perceived to be NPA sympathizers and enemies of the state, “enemies of peace”.
One week after the “peace caravans” were held in Surigao, on September 1, three Lumad were killed. They were Emerito Samarca, 54, Executive Director of Alcadev; Dionel Campos, chair of the Mapasu and his cousin, Bello Sinzo. Alleged perpetrators were paramilitary groups linked with the AFP.
Human rights groups in Caraga report that military combat and clearing operations have been concentrated in the WNI priority areas in Caraga (Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Sur mostly) starting June this year, confirming the priority areas and timetable in the Powerpoint presentation.
“These municipalities constitute almost the entire Surigao del Sur province and key lumad areas in Agusan del Sur. The transfer of the headquarters of the 402nd Infantry Brigade last June 2015 from regional center Butuan City to Tandag City, Surigao del Sur illustrates the shift of focus of the entire brigade to the province,” according to Karapatan in Caraga.
Similarly in Davao, a “peace caravan” led by DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman was also held in Talaingod from June 19-20, consistent with the timetable in the Powerpoint presentation. Many of the Manobos currently seeking refuge at the UCCP Haran were from this area. The “peace caravan” sought to downplay the reality of internally displaced persons by making it appear that there was no disruption in the delivery of services from key government agencies.
The deaths of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo, the displacement of the Lumad from Talaingod and Paquibato, and the fact that they are all from the so-called priority areas for the government counter-insurgency program Bayanihan and WNI are no coincidence. The deaths and displacements are in fact the direct result of Oplan Bayanihan and WNI; the use of both military power as well as civilian agencies for psy-war operations.
At most, the Whole of Nation Initiative makes civilian agencies complicit in the deaths and displacement of the Lumad of Mindanao. They are being mobilized to support the so-called “focused military operations” undertaken in Lumad communities. At the very least, the presence of civilian agencies in the counter-insurgency operations has not spared the civilian population from abuses by the AFP and their paramilitary minions.
Oplan Bayanihan is supposed to end on December 2016. It has already failed to meet its medium-term goal of rendering the NPA irrelevant so that the AFP could focus on external defense during the second half of the program. Meanwhile, as the rampage of military and paramilitary groups continue, the OPAPP would rather undertake a psy-war roadshow than actually engage the NDFP in serious peace negotiations to address the root causes of the armed conflict.
Aquino, the AFP and the OPAPP deserve our strongest condemnation for the massacres and the growing number of internal refugees in Mindanao. ###
SEPTEMBER 12, the date of the burial of the massacred Lumad, has been declared a regional day of protest by Bayan Caraga. We enjoin everyone to let their outrage be heard and to support the Lumad’s continuing struggle against state terror.