Philippines: churches urge withdrawal of army from indigenous lands

 A church-led fact-finding mission has revealed that despite recommendation from a United Nations Special Rapportuer to demilitarize indigenous territories, Banwaon communities in San Luis, Agusan and even staff members of the Religious of Good Shepherd, who are working with the Banwaon people, continue to suffer serious threats and abuses perpetrated by elements of the military and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU). The Promotion of Church People's Response (PCPR) joins the RGS sisters and the CARAGA Church People's Alliance in condemning the massive displacement, killings, grave threats and harassment perpetrated by military-CAFGU units against Banwaon indigenous people living in the sitios of Minlinao, Tabon-Tabon, Nakadayas, Kimambukagyang, and Balit in San Luis, Agusan del Sur. PCPR criticized the Arroyo government for failing to order immediate withdrawal of military-CAFGU forces, reminding Arroyo that in his official country report dated March 3, 2003, Mr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, recommended to the Philippine government: "Given the severity of the various alleged human rights abuses and the divisive effects on indigenous communities caused by irregular military units or paramilitary groups, the Special Rapportuer urges that CAFGUs be withdrawn from indigenous areas altogether, within the framework of a national programme to demilitarize indigenous peoples' territories. Furthermore, the Special Rapportuer recommends that the Government of the Philippines take maximum caution to protect indigenous people's rights during its military operations, in accordance with international humanitarian standards." "We hold President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), chiefly accountable for the military-CAFGU abuses such as the cases perpetrated by Mario Napongahan under the 23rd IB assigned at Mahagsay and Km 24 detachment in San Luis, Agusan," PCPR declared. "Arroyo totally ignored the recommendations of UN Rapporteur Stavenhagen just as she and the AFP officials chorus in denying military involvement as noted by the UN Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings, Prof. Philip Alston. We welcome the latest hearing on the Philippine human rights situation at the US Senate and we continue to appeal for the UN representatives to help stop extra-judicial killings and all forms of human rights abuses in our country.," Fr. Jerry Sabado, OCarm, PCPR Spokesperson stated as he joined the media briefing of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) on its Human Rights Report submitted to international agencies. Fr Sabado, a participant in the mission said: "We have also submitted to Prof. Alston the case of Mateo Morales, Executive Director the RGS-TFM hospital who was shot dead by suspected CAFGU elements on the night of 24 January 2006. The latest killing of a witness during Prof. Alston's mission and the continuing surveillance and death threats on many others, expose the brutality of military-CAFGU forces who continue to perpetrate human rights abuses amidst UN recommendations and international appeals to stop the killings." Following the killing of Renato "Atong" Torrecampo Pacaide, another Anakpawis provincial leader who was also a member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), PCPR also joined the human rights group Karapatan in denouncing the latest harassment against Mr Priel Booc, 38 years old, chairperson of Karapatan SMR Task Force Militarization. On March 5, Mr. Booc received a text message warning him to be the next victim "Pare Pagbantay kay ikaw na ang sunod nga tirahon amigo ta piro trabaho lang ni amo okay?" from sender 09155780969. Mr Booc, a Community Development worker of the UCCP-Southern Mindanao District worked together with Pacaide in their community peasant work in Digos City before the Anakpawis leader was shot dead on March 2, 2007. A further report from the Religious of the Good Shepherd working in the area will be published on ICN later this week.

Share this story