More villagers to flee as rescue operations go on

RESCUE operations conducted by the military in Northern Mindanao to free captive soldiers violate the rights of the indigenous people, as "it forces the lumads out of their ancestral domain, threatening their livelihood and existence."

Roger Plana, secretary-general of the lumad group Kalumbay, said they condemn the ongoing rescue efforts of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division (4ID) due to the displacement of more than three hundred villagers.

“We condemn the rescue operations. Our brothers and sisters have been forced to flee from their homes, their sons and daughters wail as explosions from the army’s cannons are getting nearer to their communities,” Plana said, adding that most of the displaced are women and children.

He said most of the evacuees were members of the Higaonon tribe that used to reside peacefully in the sitios (neighborhoods) of Lakbangan, Kalhaan, Impadiding in Barangay Minalwang, Claveria town in Misamis Oriental.

“If the military operations will continue, we are certain that more women and children in the lumad communities will be displaced,” Plana said, adding that it could balloon to thousands in a few months if this would go on.

He said the affected communities got no choice but to flee from their homes, their farms and livestock.

Plana added the displaced villagers are now having a hard time living in the evacuation site.

Rights violations

He said the months of October to December are harvest season for the lumads, and if the military operations will continue, they will cause a devastating effect to their food production.

“This operation is a violation to the rights of the indigenous peoples as stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),” Plana added.

In the website of the United Nations, it is stated in the article 30 of the UNDRIP that “military activities shall not take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples, unless justified by a relevant public interest or otherwise freely agreed with or requested by the indigenous peoples concerned.”

It added that “the state shall undertake effective consultations with the indigenous peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, prior to using their lands or territories for military activities.”

LGUs, religious no power to negotiate

In a news report published recently in Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro, Major General Oscar Lactao, 4ID’s commanding general, said the goal of the military in conducting its combat operations is to rescue Privates First Class Marnel Clinches and Jerrel Yorong who were captured by the guerrilla fighters last August 22 in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon.

Lactao said the military could not declare a suspension of military operation (Somo) to ensure a smooth turnover of the captured soldiers because it is a political decision.

He added the civilians, the local government units, and the religious leaders have no power to negotiate for cessation of hostilities between the military and the NPA.

In the same article, Lactao promised the military will do its best to locate and rescue the captives without collateral damage -- sparing civilians while targeting armed rebels.

Engaging rebels in outlying areas

In a separate report, acting 4ID spokesman First Lieutenant Patrick Martinez said to avoid hitting the residents, the government troops were instructed to engage the insurgents in the outlying areas far away from the residences.

Martinez added the NPA could also be held liable if civilians are hurt from the landmines that the rebels have planted all over the place intended for the military.

He said the loud booming noises the villagers heard were not from the artillery shelling by the government troops but from the exploding landmines.

Request for Somo

Richard Colao, secretary-general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Northern Mindanao Region (KMP-NMR), said National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he is amenable to the Somo declaration.

Colao said if the military implemented the Somo, the two captives could have been released a long time ago.

He added the casualties and the displacement of lumad communities could not have happened if the military implemented the Somo for 10 days to facilitate the smooth turnover of the captured soldiers.

In an recent article published in Ang Bayan, the official publication of the New People’s Army under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP-NPA), it was reported that Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, wrote a letter to President Benigno Aquino III and Gazmin, urging them to declare the Somo.

Another Sun.Star article cited a statement from Bukidnon Governor Jose Maria Zubiri, head of the local crisis committee that is negotiating for the release of Cinches and Yorong, saying that the NPA identified the areas that would be covered by the Somo as San Fernando, Cabanglasan, Malaybalay City, Impasug-ong, Manolo Fortich and Malitbog in Bukidnon.

In Misamis Oriental, the areas that will be covered in the temporary ceasefire would be Balingasag, Claveria and Gingoog City, the report added.
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