The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons has urged the Aquino administration to address the widespread displacement of indigenous people in Mindanao.
Dr. Chaloka Beyani said the government must “give greater attention” to the incidents of displacements and address its causes “whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.”
“It was striking to me that indigenous peoples have been particularly vulnerable to conflict-induced displacement in many regions, particularly in Mindanao,” he said.
He cited the plight of the some 700 displaced IPs now currently staying at the Haran Center of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP). From their communities in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon, the IPs left because of fear of the military and the paramilitary group Alamara.
Beyani said he is “concerned by the plight” of the IPs.
Massive displacements of IPs are also happening in the provinces of Bukidnon, Surigao, and Agusan.
The UN official met with IP leaders and military officials to discuss the issue of massive displacement of IPs from Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, he said, has asserted that “it is seeking to protect the communities and provide services to them in conflict regions” but it was also their “presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities.”
Only two weeks ago, North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco led a team of police, military, and representatives of various government agencies in what she called was a rescue operation of the IPs that sought shelter at the UCCP Haran Humanitarian Center. When the police forced themselves into the compound, Catamco’s ‘rescue’ turned out violent with over a dozen IPs hurt.
IP leaders said they, too, wanted to go home – but only if the soldiers leave their villages. This was also echoed by Beyani.
“The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection,” he said. “They described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP and harassment in the context of the on-going conflict between the AFP and the NPA.”
He also noted how schools are supposed to be occupied by the soldiers and the members of Alamara, something that has been “hampering the access to education of indigenous children.”
Earlier, Catamco and the military said the IPs in Haran are held against their will, saying they were victims of “kidnapping” and “human trafficking.”
Quoting tribal leaders, Beyani said the IPs “are not being detained against their will at the UCCP centre in Davao, as is evident by reports of their periodic return to their communities.”
He also noted how the IPs described their own situation as “neither acceptable nor sustainable.”
“It is essential to find a rapid and peaceful solution to their situation in full consultation with their legitimate leaders, with their voluntary and secure return to their ancestral lands being a high priority,” he said.
The Aquino government, he said, must consult with the IPs to “give greater attention to addressing the causes of displacement, whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.”
He said the government must give attention to the plight of the displaced IPs “until durable solutions are attained and their futures are secured.” | JMT, NewsDesk