By Chito Chavez
Human rights group Karapatan has assailed the “government for continuing attacks’’ on the indigenous people (IP) communities in the country.
Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay issued the statement claiming the rise in the number of Lumad leaders being killed in Bukidnon.
Karapatan noted a Lumad leader and woman human rights defender, Leah Tumbalang, was killed last Friday, August 23.
She was a leader of Kaugalingong Sistema Igpasasindog to Lumadnong Ogpaan (Kasilo), an organization whose members campaigned against the entry of mining corporations in Bukidnon and for the defense of their ancestral domain.
Palabay said “the merciless murder of Bai Leah Tumbalang manifested how military rule and other counter-insurgency campaigns in Mindanao have enabled and worsened the attacks on Filipinos, especially indigenous people and human rights defenders who have remained critical of this regime’s repressive and neoliberal policies’’.
Reports received by Karapatan revealed that Tumbalang had received death threats prior to her death.
“She was clearly targeted for her active involvement in various community campaigns and struggles. We live at a time when any form of resistance — even to defend one’s ancestral domain and demand a clean and safe environment — will earn the ire of this regime. We grieve the loss of another environmental defender, a mother, and a leader who stood for future generations,” Palabay said.
Palabay attributed the continuing spate of killings to repressive state policies, including martial law and Oplan Kapanatagan.
“Martial law remains a tool in aggravating the violations directed and funded by counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapanatagan. Typical of fascist regimes, this government sees defense of our democratic rights, of our collective right to a healthy environment and of our cultural, social and economic rights as threats, immediately responding with repression and human rights violations,” she added.
On a separate note and responding to the alleged exhumation of three skeletal remains in Bukidnon, the rights group dismissed recent challenge from the AFP’s 4th Infantry Division to probe the said incident.
“Time and again, we have repeated the core of our mandate — which is to monitor, document, and seek accountability for State-perpetrated human rights violations. Then the trolls and gov’t officials will decry this and say “Why only the government?” To this, we again remind them that government is the primary duty bearer in upholding and protecting human rights. Perhaps the AFP, which is receiving billions in the state budget and in military aid from other countries, can divert some of the funds they are using in terrorizing communities, and investigate this so-called incident,” Palabay explained. Palabay also cautioned the possibility the AFP may use this to file trumped-up charges against community leaders in the region, just as it had previously done to falsely implicate activists and leaders.
“As we condemn the continued killing of individuals critical of the government, we likewise remind the Duterte government — alongside its bloodthirsty state forces — that they have the foremost duty to uphold and protect human rights. They have billions at their disposal and yet, these are used for discretionary funds and policies that tear communities apart, sanction and reward killings, worsen impunity, and further violate people’s rights,” Palabay concluded.