UN special rapporteur's office hits AFP for 'gross misrepresentation'

Source: 
By Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News - http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/focus/08/11/15/un-special-rapporteurs-office-hits-afp-gross-misrepresentation
Date of publication: 
11 August, 2015

The spokesman of Dr. Cheloka Beyani, the UN Special Rapporteur for Internally Displaced Peoples, has accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines of “gross misrepresentation” following the release of a military statement on lumad evacuees in Davao City.

The AFP Eastern Mindanao Command press release carried the title: “LUMADS IN HARAN ARE MANIPULATED: Not Evacuees but victims of trafficking”.

That statement has been pushed by Maj. Harold Cabunoc and handpicked media to boost the claim — first raised by North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco – that lumad in a Davao church-owned sactuary are victims of trafficking and in need of rescue.

“The truth hurts,” Cabunoc crowed following the AFP’s release of a recorded Manila briefing between Beyani and military brass.

The recording explains the anger of Beyani’s office and shows how the AFP release left out substantial and important portions that change the context of a one-paragraph quote attributed to Beyani.

ABS-CBNnews.com got copies of the response of Beyani’s office and the recording. The transcription has been done in consultation with other journalists who also have the recording, which is hard to decipher in parts.

‘TRAFFICKING’ LINE

The first few paragraphs of the AFP release, from the EastMinCom information office, reads:

MEMBERS of Indigenous People (IP) inside the compound of United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) in Haran, Davao City are manipulated, not evacuees but victims of trafficking.”

“This was based on the assessment made by United Nation (UN) Special Rapporteur Cheloka Beyani during the exit brief at the Operations Center of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) in Camp Aguinaldo.”

“ ‘When we asked them about the circumstances in which why they left their areas they say they were at risked at force recruitment into Alamara and the movements to that area was in protest in relation to the presence of Alamara, so they wanted to make a point that that was what happened. But I have been there for some time, I think they got manipulated.’ Beyani said.”

“It can be recalled that tension gripped inside UCCP Haran last July 23 as government forces and other concerned agencies tried to rescue at least 1000 members of lumads both from Davao and Bukidnon who were deceived by militant groups by saying that militarization will harm their lives.”

NO TRAFFICKING

Journalists wrote Beyani’s office to seek clarification as the AFP release contradicted the official end-of-mission statement.

Beyani’s media liaison, Graham Fox, replied: “I attach for your reference the Press Release and exit statement made by the Special Rapporteur at the conclusion of his visit to the Philippines. Please consider these documents to represent the official findings and views of the Special Rapporteur, including in relation to those indigenous people in Davao, UCCP Haran.”

Fox added: “I do not recognize the quotes attributed to Mr. Beyani by the AFP in your email attached. I also note that the Special Rapporteur was explicit in his discussions with the AFP representatives on multiple occasions that the persons concerned should under no circumstances be considered to fall into the category of trafficked persons.”

“It is the Special Rapporteur’s understanding, based on first hand interviews with the indigenous peoples in Haran, that they relocated to this facility freely in response to the militarization of their areas and forced recruitment into paramilitary groups operating under the auspices of the AFP. The AFP statement provided is consequently a gross misrepresentation of the position of the Special Rapporteur.”

‘RESCUE’

Beyani visited the Philippines last month to look into the conditions of people displaced by the 2013 Zamboanga siege, supertyphoon Yolanda, the conflict over the Tampakan Mines in South Cotabato and the lumad in Davao.

His trip followed a forcible “rescue” attempt at Haran that saw 15 indigenous people injured when 500 police stormed their sanctuary.

That rescue also involved Catamco, chair of the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples, who earlier accused church and militants groups of human trafficking or forcing the lumad to remain in Davao City.

The intervention of Davao City officials averted greater violence. Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte gave lumad an hour to go with Catamco, who came with trucks and social workers, soldiers and the paramilitary Alamara.

During that hour, the woman chieftain that Catamco featured to highlight the trafficking claim publicly scolded the legislator.

Bai Bibyaon Bigcay said Catamco twisted their words. She said the lawmaker highlighted their desire to return home but left out their demand for the military of leave their schools and villages alone.

In a “dialogue” that preceded the “rescue,” military officers brought by Catamco said they would not leave the lumad villages because of the presence of New People’s Army in surrounding areas.

From that, the military subsequently accused the rights and church groups and several lumad datus of being communists and allies of the NPA.

LEFT OUT OF STATEMENT

Cabunoc, sent on a “special mission” to defuse the lumad problem, carries on with that theme. He sent journalists recordings of “ad libs” from Beyani during a briefing with AFP brass two days before his exit-mission message.

From the recordings, the paragraph quoted by the AFP statement on exoneration is partly accurate as is that single paragraph quote, up to the word, “manipulated”:

“When we asked them on the circumstances in which they left their area to go to that location, they said they were at risk of forced recruitment into the Alamara and their movement to that area was in protest, it’s a protest, in relation to the presence of Alamara and the military activities, so they wanted to make a point that this is what is happening. But having been there for sometime, I think they got manipulated,” Beyani said.

The recording, however, shows what the AFP left out.

Beyani was referring to the July 23 storming of the lumad sanctuary.

“We first meet with the Col (?) who was in charge of the military unit…and this morning, who was very open, very frank and credible, clear in his answers…

When we spoke with the IPs we were quite clear as well that the incident was not instigated by the military. The military had no responsibility over that.”

Lumad, militants or church groups did not blame soldiers for the Haran fracas.

It was the PNP, with a 500-strong contingent that led the operation. There were troops but they were in the background, according to lumad leaders in Haran during an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com.

Police and Catamco and the military now, insist they were out to save “human trafficking” victims.

But their statements ignore this portion of Beyani’s “ad libs”:

“But the situation up there have politicized and the police may have been invited in the belief that the communities have agreed to go (home) and found the situation which they totally did not expect on their hands. So the incident indicated (?) a failure of protection. It indicated (?) the vulnerability of the IPs themselves.”

BEFORE THE ‘RESCUE’

Bai Bigcay made it clear that the lumad, in response to a question from Catamco, had, indeed, raised hands when asked if they wanted to go home.

But when they spoke about the conditions needed for that homecoming, Catamco swept these aside. She then accused the lumad datus of not being true leaders and even harangued one supporter, asking if she was a member of the NPA.

Military officials, brought unannounced by Catamco to the dialogues, said they would not leave the lumad communities because of the presence of rebels.

The full audio recordings of two successive tumultuous “dialogues” were furnished to ABS-CBNNews.com and will be posted on indayvarona.com.

The dialogue led to a walkout of the lumad datus. Catamco gave subsequent interviews where she vowed to bring the lumad home. She also sat at a press conference beside an Alamara datu who vowed war on those, he claimed, trafficked the lumad.

BEYANI’S ADVICE

After saying the police were not appraised of the true situation of the lumad, the UN Special Rapporteur told AFP officials:

“You know they (lumad) are at the mercy of both forces and I think it is very important to have very low level consultations with them for a start, to begin, to discuss possibilities of return.”

“We asked them can DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) come here and provide you with services and discuss with you’re your options, and they said yes.”

“But (lumad) would like to have a process that begins negotiations with the tribal leaders with notifications that we’re coming at this stage to discuss these issues and there after, to reach an understanding on how this can be done, on how they can eventually return.”

These statements are what the lumad have repeatedly told journalists – and Catamco.

They have set conditions for their return, including the pullout of soldiers from their alternative schools and their village centers.

This is not the first evacuation of the lumad from Talaingod, Capalong and Bukidnon. During their 2014 evacuation, the lumad showed in a video that soldiers had camped out in the Salugpungan School established in the 1990s with the help of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Teachers and village leaders are seen remonstrating with troops.

After his advice, Beyani then said: “When we asked them about the circumstances in which they left… they said they were at risk of forced recruitment into the Alamara and their movements to that area was in protest both of the presence of the Alamara and of military activity. So they wanted to make a point that that is what is happening… but having been there for some time, I think they got manipulated, their situation is now vulnerable.”

CATAMCO’S ROLE

In the context of his other statements and the next ones that he makes, Beyani is not accusing the sanctuary providers of manipulating the lumad. He does not dismiss the lumad claims. He had already stated someone had told police a wrong story that led to the melee.

He urges: “I think it is with of utmost importance that you send some neutral agents that act as in negotiations with them, reach an understanding with them, and we believe that solutions can be reached that way – in a way that meets everyone’s expectations.”

“And again we make clear that neither the AFP nor the PNP have responsibility (for the fracas at Haran),” Beyani said. And then he mentions Catamco:

“Primarily you know for what happened. And I think the statement by Congresswoman Nancy indicated all the political implications of all of that. And this we say, situations of that sort should not be politicized, that humanitarian in character need humanitarian (solutions)”

Taken as a whole, that explains why Fox denied the statements attributed to Beyani.

The military release left out the context of the UN official’s statement. The military used Beyani’s statement to bolster it’s human trafficking claim. But the UN Special Rapporteur made clear:

“When we arrived there we didn’t announce that we were going there at all. We walked through the gate, the gate was open. Not locked. And we asked them who are your tribal leaders and they pointed to someone, and we asked that someone if we can get some IDPs at random, tribal leaders and women, so we can actually speak to them. We put questions to them. We put them to task…”

The result of that free random chats with the lumad in Haran and the other points raised by Beyani, form the basis for his final report. This is what he had to say of the lumad in Haran:

“I am concerned by the plight of some 700 indigenous peoples currently living in basic Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) church run facilities in the city of Davao having been displaced from their ancestral homes for several months due to long-standing conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA) in their region. I travelled to Davao to consult the national and local authorities and the indigenous peoples themselves on this situation. I heard from the AFP its assertion that it is seeking to protect the communities and provide services to them in conflict regions; however the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities. The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection. They described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP and harassment in the context of the on-going conflict between the AFP and the NPA. Schools have reportedly been closed and/or occupied by the AFP or Alamara, hampering the access to education of indigenous children. While tribal leaders informed me that they are not being detained against their will at the UCCP centre in Davao, as is evident by reports of their periodic return to their communities, their current situation is neither acceptable nor sustainable. It is essential to find a rapid and peaceful solution to their situation in full consultation with their legitimate leaders, with their voluntary and secure return to their ancestral lands being a high priority. I urge the Government, in consultation with indigenous peoples themselves, to give greater attention to addressing the causes of displacement whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.”