MANKAYAN, Benguet (Nov. 20) – Residents of four municipalities in the tri-provincial boundaries of Ilocos Sur, Benguet and Mountain province denounced in strongest terms the state-inflicted human rights violations on the ranks of indigenous peoples and peasants at the close of a forum on human rights.
The Bulalacao Elementary School, here, teemed with people when the people’s organization covering the towns of Quirino and Cervantes, in Ilocos Sur; Mankayan in Benguet; and Tadian in Mountain Province gathered some 250 participants on November 19.
Organized under the Maquitacdg or the Mankayan, Quirino, Tadian, Cervantes Danggayan a Gunglo, the participants in a unity statement resolved not to be engulfed with fear amid intensified militarization and human right violations inflicted on them by combined efforts of the military, local government units and the corporate mining firm, the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (Lepanto).
Mostly indigenous peasants, the participants also called for renewed unity and vigilance; and to participate in local governance, as they traced the roots of their collective woes to the mining operations of Lepanto, and the government policy against its critics.
Cervantes Vice-mayor Robert Harnuis, also a member of he advisory council of Maquitacdg emphasized that the struggle against destructive mining is a struggle for better living conditions to affected townsfolk.
“It is a struggle to empower the people to work for good governance,” Harnuiz told the forum, as he called on the participants to actively participate in building a government that recognizes the rights of its constituency as active participants in decision-making and democratic processes affecting their lives.
Gory folk stories
Speakers from the four municipalities share common stories that government soldiers have encroached into their peaceful communities when they conducted illegal searches, lived among them in their homes, not in their barracks, used children as guides in their operations against the New People’s Army (NPA). Residents also reported the presence of gun-toting soldiers in Bauko town in Mountain Province.
Worse, according to a Maquitacdg member, soldiers “stole farm animals and agricultural produce”. In Tadian, some of the soldiers did not pay the corresponding amount for food items they took from the locals. An account also said that agricultural products were destroyed by military operations.
In a place where indigenous culture is still intact like Tadian, the desecration of ritual areas like the batug, did not escape the local folk.
Reports reaching Maquitacdg show that elements of the Philippine Army unit operating in the four towns tag the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the party list Bayan Muna and some people’s organizations as either communist fronts or are influenced by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The reports say that even their own leaders are allegedly included in a military hit-list.
Aside from militarization, implementation of the covert Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) and human rights violations, Maquitacdg also listed continuing issues as environmental destruction; the non-recognition by Lepanto of their right to ancestral land and indigenous people’s rights; and some deceiving tactics employed upon communities to weaken their unity against Lepanto’s operations and expansion. # Lyn V. Ramo for NORDIS