TRIBAL chieftains criticized the unjustified issuance of a warrant of arrest against 18 mass leaders who have been helping them bring out their issues of militarization in their hinterland homes and the threats on their lives.

They also appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to prosecute former President Benigno Aquino III instead, who has institutionalized militarization throughout his term of office.

In a press conference at the UCCP Haran House where hundreds of lumads from Davao del Norte and Bukidnon are still taking shelter, the lumad leaders appealed for Duterte’s attention to their plight so that the displaced lumads can finally go home.

A protest action organized by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan that was attended by various groups held in front of the Unitop Store on San Pedro Street in Davao City.

At least 100 protesters joined the candle-lighting. Anak bayan-Southern Mindanao spokesperson Malaya Genotiva claimed those charged had done nothing wrong, and merely tried to defend their human rights. She added that witnesses did not find any violation that prove the accused were guilty.

"Klaro nga tumo-tumo lang ang mga kaso nga gipasaka (these are only trumped-up charges filed) against our leaders under Benigno Aquino administration. We appealed to them to withdraw these trumped-up charges," Genotiva said.

Genotiva also appealed to the Duterte administration to assist their leaders and look into this matter. She said the 15 human rights defenders do not deserve to be locked-up in jail.

A warrant of arrest has been earlier issued against Exodus for Justice spokesperson Reverend Juri Jaime, Bagong Alyansa ng Makabayan (Bayan), spokesperson Sheena Duazo, Karapatan-SMR secretary general Hanimay Suazo, Ryan Laniba, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) spokesperson Tony Salubre, Jimboy Marciano, Gabriela-Davao secretary general Mary Ann Sapar, JajaEncosio, Kilusa ng Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Southern Mindanao Region (KMP-SMR) Chairperson Pedro Arnado, Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Chairperson KerlanFanagel, Sr. Stella Matutina, Restita Miles, Isidro Andao, KharloManalo, and Save Our Schools (SOS) Network Spokesperson Rius Valle, for alleged kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

Camilo Asonan, Tikulpa council member called on President Duterte to order an investigation on how a warrant was issued against the 18 mass leaders, saying it is impossible for just 18 people to illegally detain 700 lumads.

He sees the warrant as an attempt to finally silence them, but Asonan scoffed off this threat saying these 18 are even the very people who see to their daily needs.

“Bisan pa man gikasuhan ug kidnapping ang among mga lider, dili kami musurrender samtang may kinabuhi pa ang Lumad (Even if all our leaders will be sued for kidnapping, we will not give up for as long as we live),” he said.

Among the other demands are to pull out the Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel from their community, dismantle paramilitary groups, and help the displaced lumads in returning to their community safe and sound.

President Duterte is the first ever Mindanaoan president and a known staunch supporter of the lumads. Tribal chieftains have pinned their hopes in the Duterte administration saying that having a Mindanaoan president will increase their chances of being heard.

“Hinaot unta mi kay President Duterte na matabangan niya ming mga Lumad namakabangon,” Mongzon said.

Datu Men Malibato, Karadyawan spokesperson, clamored for justice to be served for the human rights violators who harassed them to the extent that they were forced to evacuate from their homes.

They wanted Noynoy Aquino to be persecuted and be publicly brought to trial for unleashing the paramilitary force and the AFP to their lands, resulting to violent acts and murders of tribe leaders.

Above all, lumads all over Mindanao specially in evacuation centers are all hoping to return home. (Viel Elysse Cansino, UPMin intern/with report from ICT)