DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 February) — Twenty three years after the dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship, leaders of regional organizations of indigenous peoples (IPs or Lumads) in Mindanao say militarization remains their number one problem. “Sa pagsumada namo.. sa kasinatian.. mas una ang militarisasyon,” (Summing up, based on our experience, militarization tops) the problems confronting the Lumads, Dulphing Ogan, secretary-general of a Mindanao-wide alliance of regional Lumad organizations told a press conference Friday, Day Two of the five-day 1st General Assembly of Kalumaran or Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Alliance of Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao).
Kalumaran comprises Pasaka in Southern Mindanao, Kasalo in Western Mindanao, Kalumbay in Northern Mindanao, Kaluhhamin in Socsksargen and SGS in Western Mindanao and was organized in January 2006 during a conference on mining in Dipolog City.
Lorna Mora, Kaluhhamin Secretary-General; Kerlan Fanagel, Pasaka Secretary-General; Norma Capuyan, Kalumaran vice-chair; Jomorito Gumaynon, Kalumbay chair and Genasque Enriquez, representing the Caraga region, took turns in narrating their region’s experiences, each similar to the other: military operations allegedly preceding the entry of so-called “development projects” such as mining operations, expansion of plantation; and the military’s alleged recruitment of Lumads into the military and paramilitary.
Enriquez talked about the February evacuations in Lianga, Surigao del Sur because of the entry of the military in a barangay, purportedly to recruit residents in the fight against the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).
As of Friday, he said, 57 families or around 300 individuals were still in the Lianga gym-turned-evacuation center.
Enriquez said they suspect the military operations may have something to do with the interest of big firms to mine Andap Valley for gold, coal, chromite, among other minerals.
In 2007, 13 IP communities in the Valley stood up against mining in the area.
Gumaynon talked about the military’s Task Force Gantangan, and how it has organized the Datus under Deo Mampatilan of Agusan del Sur; how Datus are being made to be part of the negotiating panel to negotiate with the NPA to surrender; how the Lumads are being enticed with the promise of huge returns from out of the royalty fees that would be paid them by mining firms or other firms operating within the Lumads’ ancestral domain.
Mora narrated the expansion of plantations of jatropha aside from pineapple and banana.
She cited the alleged 500-hectare expansion of jatropha plantation in Malungon, Sarangani by the Sarangani Biofuels Corporation (SBC) headed by and organized by Governor Migs Dominguez. Dominguez said he has no idea what SBC is.
Mora said hundreds of hectares are being planted to jatropha and other export crops instead of crops for food security.
Fanagel talked about militarization in Southeastern Mindanao, how the municipal gym in New Bataan, Compostela Valley has become a battalion headquarters. He said the most number of human rights violations in ComVal is in New Bataan, including the killing of Dodong Sarmiento of Panalipdan.
In Davao City, he said the 39th IB organized Lumads into paramilitary elements and allegedly ordered them go on duty for 24 hours without pay. He talked about the “forced recruitment” of Lumads into the “Bagani Force” and criticized the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Conference on Peace and Development (MIPCPD) under Datu Joel Unad for being a “puppy of the military.”
MIPCPD was organized in 2003 to establish partnership with the government “in the implementation of its projects” and “to open up and establish its network with those of the private sector.”
Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) spokesperson told MindaNews it is the community, not the military that is organizing the Lumads into Alamara or Bagani. “That is part of their culture to have an Alamara or Bagani (warrior) Force. That is what is protecting them…. We will be violating their culture naman if we don’t allow that.”
Cabangbang also said the Investment Defense Force (IDF) is “community-organized… It is barangay-based….IDF is just a terminology being used. It is bringing government initiatives in the hinterlands. It is protecting projects like the Davao del Norte-Bukidnon road.”
But a government press release dated February 8, 2008 and datelined Tagum City, said President Arroyo “instructed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to create an Investment Defense Force (IDF) to protect vital infrastructure and projects from terrorists, including the New People’s Army and other rebel groups who stand in the way of development particularly in the rural areas.”
“The function of the Investment Defense Force is for the military to give a protective shield to power assets, other infrastructures and minerals development projects,” she said.
Cabangbang stressed that defense is part of the Lumads’ culture and that “there is a clamor from the tribal chieftains to defend their ancestral domain from the New Peoples Army.”
He said traditional Bagani weapons like spears are no match to the NPA’s guns, hence the arming of the Lumads through the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).
Cabangbang said it was the tribal chieftains in 2003 who asked for Lumads to be organized into Cafgus and that as a response, a company of Cafgus was organized. Also, he said, then Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes made it a policy to allot “5% to the Lumads for the recruitment of candidate-soldiers.”
Today, he said, there are five to six Cafgu companies whose members are all Lumads “in Davao City and Agusan provinces.”
“If the IPs say walang makapasok na NPA (if the IPs say no NPA can enter), if they drive away the NPA from their ancestral domain, if that is helping our counterinsurgency, mas maganda (better),” he said.
Militarization, he said, is “a term used by the Communist Party.”
“Bakit nagpapadala ng tropa kung walang NPA? (Why send troops if there are no NPA?). We are there to occupy guerrilla bases of the NPA. To neutralize,” he said.
He said consciousness about the Lumads within the Armed Forces has been “lately lang” (just lately) when they got “a list of 384 tribal chieftains murdered by the NPA in Eastern Mindanao.”
Cabangbang said “70 per cent of the NPAs are IPs, 90 per cent of the guerrilla bases are IP communities.”
He said there are an estimated 2,000 armed regulars of the NPA in 30 guerrilla bases in Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom).
EastMinCom has jurisdiction over the 4th, 6th and 10th Infantry Divisions, Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao, Philippine Air Force’s 3rd Tactical Operations Wing, and the 5th Civil Relations Group.
It covers Regions 10 (Northern Mindanao), 11 (Southeastern Mindanao), 12 (Southwestern Mindanao, popularly known by its old name, Central Mindanao), Caraga (the two Agusans and Surigaos) and Maguindnanao.
The “biggest and strongest” NPA force in the country, according to a December 2008 interview with then brigade commander, Col. Allan Luga, is within the EastMinCom, specifically in the Davao del Norte-ComVal area. This is also why EastMinCom hosts the Army’s biggest brigade, the 1001st.
Cabangbang said the NPA is “living off the IP communities.” He said if the communities are isolated (from the NPA), they expect the guerrillas to surrender.
“Gone are the days na frontal and labanan (when fighting was frontal). Now it’s civil-military operations,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)