Report of Team Visit to Mindanao
Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit (PEDV)
Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit (PEDV)
What we saw and heard
Just 9 years old, he stood holding the microphone, but he was too overcome to speak. Only after a full minute of silence did the words come out. The soldiers had held a knife at his throat, said that as he would probably become an NPA they may as well kill him now, and told him to start digging a hole for his grave with his bare hands. As he spoke, he wept, and we wept with him.
There in the Manobo community of Han-ayan, Brgy. Diatagon, Municipality of Lianga , Surigao del Sur, we heard story after story of heartrending anguish, telling us of those terrible days from late April to mid-May 2005. A young widow told how soldiers shot her husband during the forced evacuation. He died on arrival at hospital, 4 hours later, delayed time and again by military checkpoints and interrogations. “I have two children and I am pregnant” she said, “what will happen to us now?”
A teenager told how he and two friends were detained for two days by the military. After negotiations they were exchanged for four men – who have never been seen since. The mother of two of these men pleaded with us for help to find out what has happened to them; the wife of one broke down as she spoke of the buck-passing from one military unit to another as she sought information. She too pleaded for our help.
Beatings, humiliations, detentions, burning of houses, killing of animals, bombings and shootings – we heard of the pain and fear and anguish of this small indigenous community. The military claimed they were fighting insurgents nearby and evacuating the community for its own protection. But the community chieftain and the people believe that the government and military want them out of the area, so the mining companies can commence operations unhindered by the opposition of those who’ve farmed this land for centuries. They live every day with the fear that the military will return.
A Manobo local councilwoman told us how she was offered incentives to agree to mining operations in the Han-ayan area. She was given to understand the incentives were on offer from a mining company. She refused on the fundamental principle of being against any mining of her ancestral land.
We met also with church leaders and human rights groups in Butuan City, Lianga and Davao. Roman Catholic and Protestant, indigenous and non-indigenous, rural farmer and town worker, the story was the same everywhere. The lumad of Mindanao (indigenous people) are suffering. Their rights are disregarded, they are the victims of forced dispossession, they are not consulted before “development” is approved on their ancestral land, they are repeatedly accused of beings NPAs or NPA sympathizers, they are threatened, beaten, detained, abused. Some have been killed.
We were deeply impressed by the courage of the Han-ayan people. With no government support, they are working hard for their own development. They have established their own people’s organization; they run a successful community co-operative; they manage their own schools, including an innovative “Alternative learning center for agricultural and livelihood development”; they hold their heads high; like all indigenous people they support each other, and they persist in seeking for government to listen to them and for their rights to be respected. Sadly, these initiatives are under threat from government and military actions. We salute them – their desire to live in peace on their ancestral lands, their respect for the sanctity of creation, their commitment to stick up for their rights, non-violently, their faith in the wider Filipino community, and their hope in God, are extraordinary in face of the difficulties they endure.
We also salute the ecumenical community in the Caraga region, especially in Surigao del Sur. Catholics and Protestants are working together with determination in support of the oppressed.
We believe there is a pattern to the military harassment of rural communities. The churches and human rights organizations in Mindanao speak again and again of how the lumad communities in areas of interest for logging and mining are harassed by the military. It appears the military are being used by government to clear the way for new logging and mining operations. The reason advanced for military action is nearly always that of security concerns, that the NPA is active in the region and must be rooted out. This “reason” seems to us to be nothing more than excuse for military involvement in so-called economic development strategies which are opposed by local communities.
We see signs in Mindanao and elsewhere in the Philippines of a return to the abuses of the Marcos era. Harassments, killings and other human rights violations are now so frequent that it seems these are the policies of the national government. In the Philippines, as in many countries, the rich get richer along with shareholders of transnational corporations, and the millions of poor remain trapped in poverty.
In Mindanao Filipino law does not protect the interests of indigenous communities but instead serves the interest of logging and mining corporations and the rich. We point especially to four failings of law:
The legal title of ancestral domain is held by individuals, instead of by the community. The “Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim” can only be issued to individuals, who are susceptible to pressures from government and corporations. The law needs review.
The process provided in law for consultation with local communities before logging or mining may take place is flawed. Consultation is only with a few municipal councillors and is seldom undertaken with the whole community, and results in complete disregard for the views of indigenous communities.
The 1995 Mining Act has aggravated human rights violations, opened the way for wholesale exploitation of Mindanao’s resources, allows transnational corporations to enrich their shareholders and irrevocably damages the environment. It needs to be repealed.
The military acts at the behest of logging and mining interests, in harassing and forcibly evacuating indigenous communities with impunity. Civilian authorities need to reassert their control of the military and the military needs to be held accountable for its actions.
OUR FOLLOW-UP IN OUR OWN COUNTRIES
Requests from the PEDV members for ongoing action by the WCC and CCA. We especially recommend an ongoing ecumenical ministry of presence with the suffering people of Mindanao.
Raise with the Filipino Government the case of the four missing men from the Han-ayan community – as individuals and as the PEDV delegation.
Recommend to our churches and ecumenical bodies that they express support for the indigenous people of the Philippines and for the campaigns/efforts of Filipino churches and the NCCP, and that they undertake education and advocacy work within our home churches.
Recommend to our churches and ecumenical bodies the possibility of people-to-people exchanges as a concrete form of solidarity.
Individually make direct contact with the Filipino embassies in our countries to raise our concerns and questions with them.
Find out what companies based in our countries are involved in logging and mining operations in the Philippines, and contact those companies to raise our concerns and questions about the policies of the Filipino Government and about mining operations.
TO THE FILIPINO PEOPLE
We thank the people of Mindanao with whom we met for their trust and their openness to us, for sharing their stories of deep pain and anguish, for risking further negativity towards them from the authorities because of their honest sharing with us.
We assure them of our deep respect for them and our solidarity with them. We will not forget the stories we have heard and we will take up the case of the four missing men.
We will take action as PEDV in our meetings with Filipino authorities in Manila, we will make recommendations to the WCC and the CCA, and we will take action in our own countries.
We express our distress at the lack of care and respect by government and military towards the Filipino people, the very people they are called to serve. We note this applies especially to the Filipino indigenous people. We are horrified to realize that while we have traveled thousands of kilometers to come and listen to the pain and hope of local Filipino communities, no such effort is made by those in national government in the Philippines. Failure to listen seriously to the needs and hopes of the poorest citizens is surely a failure of morality and governance.
We express our admiration for the spirit of the suffering Filipino people and communities, honouring your persistence and your courage. As well as the actions we take in solidarity with you, we shall also hold you in our prayers.
We remind you of Jesus’ concern always for the poor, for his ministry of liberation to the oppressed and good news to the poor, and for the promise that nothing can separate us from God’s love. We are one human family, and we are one in Christ. We stand with you, and for you.
Dr Victor Hsu, Church World Service, USA
Rev Gregor Henderson, National Council of Churches in Australia
Mr Michinori Mano, National Christian Council of Japan
Rev Job Santiago, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches
Bishop Denny Dapitan, Iglesia Filipina Independiente