The Philippines: UN should investigate militia violence against indigenous peoples and stop militarization of Mindanao

The Catholic Church is committed to Lumad natives (Press Release)

© Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ via Flickr

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to investigate ongoing murders of environmental activists from the indigenous Lumad people on the mostly Muslim island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Furthermore, he should call on the Philippine government to better protect the indigenous people from violence and criminalization. ‘Militias, backed by the army, are terrorizing the Lumad people, to combat dissent and to secure mining companies with access to raw materials. If this violence does not end, the Lumad are faced with disaster. The authorities continue to close schools, so that fewer and fewer Lumad children get an education,’ stated Ulrich Delius, the STP Asia consultant, in Göttingen on Wednesday.

More than 4,000 Lumad have already fled from the militia’s violence and intimidation, most recently over 1,000 natives fled from their villages to the town of Marihatag last weekend. Since October 2014, 26 indigenous environmental activists and traditional leaders were killed in northern Mindanao alone. The Lumad are made up of 18 indigenous groups living on Mindanao.

The militias are taking action against education facilities run by the Catholic Church or indigenous organisations. Since January 2014, at least 60 schools have been attacked, others have been arbitrarily closed, and the teachers criminalized. They are wrongfully accused of indoctrinating children with communist ideology to train new fighters for the rebel ‘New People’s Army’ (NPA).

The Lumad now have an important advocate in the Catholic Church. Bishop Nereo Odchimar from the town of Tandag called for an end to impunity for violence against the Lumad, and accused the military of responsibility, at a hearing of the Philippine Senate last Friday. The Lumad had testified at this hearing that 30 soldiers accompanied the ‘Magahat Bagani’ militia’s paramilitary fighters as they murdered two indigenous environmental activists and a school headmaster on September 1st 2015. The bishop, nuns and other Church officials demanded immediate dissolution of the militia. ‘This madness must be stopped. These militias have been terrorizing the indigenous population for years,’ pleaded Sister Noemi Degala of the Mindanao Nunnery. ‘The fact that the influential Catholic Church is vehemently raising its voice to stand by the victims of violence is giving the Lumad hope that the terror will finally end,’ said Delius. Bishop Odchimar was president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines from 2009 to 2011.

Header photo: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ via Flickr