DAVAO CITY – Various groups expressed discontent on President Benigno Aquino’s reaction on the recent killings in indigenous people’s communities in Mindanao.

President Aquino on Tuesday told the members of the press in a media forum that the government has no campaign to kill Lumads in reaction to allegations that the military is involved with the killings as part of the anti-insurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan.

Aquino was quoted as saying “There is no campaign to kill anybody in this country. There is a campaign to go after the culprits of these crimes regardless of who they are.”

However, Gabriela Women’s Partylist Representative Luzviminda Ilagan called President Aquino as “heartless”.

“President Aquino’s blanket denial on the issue of Lumad killings, dismissing it as if it was something imagined instead of expressing the least bit of concern or sympathy or ordering an investigation is a tad short of a tacit approval what is currently happening in Lumad communities,” Ilagan said.

Ilagan added that the president “showed anew his cacique callousness in yesterday’s conference with members of the press.”

“Aquino’s statement practically legitimizes the human rights violations committed against the Lumads by the AFP and its paramilitaries and is an accusation against the Lumads!” said Ilagan.

“The Lumads committed no crime and Aquino’s military forces have no business going after them, burning homes and schools or raping Lumad women and children or killing their teachers,” she said.

Militant activist group Anakbayan also said the president’s statement “revealed his complicity in the militarization of communities.”

“It looks like Aquino is pretending (not to know) about the killings. In any case, he has not issued a word of condemnation, not even a word of ‘concern,’” said Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan national chairperson.

Crisostomo also said Aquino’s statements are “dangerous”.

“Is he saying that those targeted by military campaigns are ‘criminals’? Isn’t he essentially echoing the military line that the Lumads being targeted are NPAs? This is exactly the logic of the military and paramilitary groups which are targeting Lumad communities,” he said.

On September 1, three people, including a school director of an alternative school and community leaders, were killed by alleged members of the Magahat Bagani Force. Witnesses have recently filed charges of multiple murder, robbery, grave threat and coercion against those who they identified as the perpetrators of the killing.

On August 28, brothers Crisanto and Ely Tabugol were also killed by suspected members of paramilitary forces belonging to the Hasmin group in Siagao, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur.

On August 18, five residents, including two minors were killed by the Army in White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon. The Army in its previous statements said the five were NPA members.

Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Conde said the government should “stop turning a blind eye” and start prosecuting “whoever might be responsible for these and other abuses in Mindanao.”

“The government needs to make clear that the military, paramilitaries, and the companies that underwrite the projects linked to these human rights violations will no longer enjoy impunity,” said Conde.

Ilagan said Aquino “should at the very least order the dismantling of paramilitary groups and the pullout of troops in Lumad territories in Mindanao so that an investigation can ensue and Lumad evacuees can return home.”

“Aquino cannot claim that is is not his government’s policy to attack Lumads when 53 of the 68 IP victims of extra judicial killings are Lumads,” said Ilagan. (davaotoday.com)

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