AN OPEN LETTER
Sagip hits Talaingod officials for denying the evacuation of lumads
An open letter on the evacuation, displacement and human rights abuses committed against the Ata-Manobo lumads of Talaingod
In the past few days, the Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous Peoples (SAGIP) has been subjected to unfair criticisms, particularly on the evacuation of the Ata-Manobo lumads in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte.
Due to the local government’s blatant denial of the incident, SAGIP has been singled out and accused of pushing the Ata Manobos to evacuate from the Talaingod hinterlands.
As a non-stock, non-proft non-government organization whose central advocacy is the promotion of the indigenous peoples’ rights and welfare, SAGIP is bound to facilitate the appeal that has been forwarded to it by the SALUGPONGAN TA TANU IGKANUGON, the local lumad organization of Ata-Manobo lumads in Talaingod composed of more than 65 communities.
SAGIP received the first appeal letter and statement from SALUGPONGAN on January 19, 2008, while the second letter arrived on January 27, hand-carried by three lumad leaders and a Datu from the areas affected by the evacuation.
Salugpongan reported the military operations in the remote areas of Talaingod, the evacuation of lumads from various sitios (hamlet/sub-village), the death of a child due to hunger and the death of an old man in the course of evacuating Sitio Sasu — where the military conducted operations last January 13 — and other human rights abuses.
As requested by SALUGPONGAN, SAGIP assisted the victims in filing a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights – Region XI, and with the Department of Social Welfare and Development on January 21 this year, hoping that the concerned agencies would promptly respond.
The CHR promised to bring the matter to the urgent attention of their regional director while the DSWD alerted the municipal social welfare development office (MSWDO) in Talaingod and even approved 240 family packs that should be given out to the victims.
But the local government of Talaingod was caught unawares of such incidents within their area of responsibility. Or, as it appears now, they simply denied the evacuation, displacement and other human rights violations in the hinterland of Talaingod because of the intermittent military operations in the area.
SAGIP went to the office of Mayor Pilar Libayao on January 28, to discuss relief support for the evacuees with the MSWDO and to inform the mayor of the appeal they received from the Salugpongan.
When they arrived, they found that Arlane Batua of the MSWDO, also invited representatives of the military, police, a member of the press, and some Sitio and Barangay leaders. Our staff felt that instead of discussing relief support, the meeting was a set up meant to intimidate those who support the affected communities.
A few local community leaders from the nearby sitios reported during the meeting that they could not confirm the evacuation of the Ata Manobo lumads because the areas that Salugpongan pointed out were too far from their village. Barangay Councilors Agon and Intot of sitio Nasilaban, barangay Palma Gil, confirmed that there were actual cases of displacement and human rights violations in sitio Sasu. They confirmed the military’s divestment of some 20 chickens, two ducks and the destruction of some houses. The Councilors also confirmed the death of an old man when they were evacuating.
Despite this admission, Salvador Nepa, the municipal administrator, denied that the evacuation took place. Not one among the LGU members present during the meeting — the mayor, the MSWDO representative, the police and the 73rd IB commanding officer — gave merit to the initial reports that should serve as basis for conducting formal investigations. No one suggested that a thorough and serious investigation be called.
For them, it was more convenient to dismiss the lumads’ complaints and demands as lies. 2nd Lt. Artur Allauigan of the 73rd IB also dismissed the lumads’ letter during the meeting, saying it came from the New Peoples’ Army.
Given this attitude, the municipal government of Talaingod should not wonder why they were the last agency that the lumads approached for help. The Municipal Government of Talaingod should not blame SAGIP or other NGO’s for being the first to be approached. The municipal government’s denial, the terror-tagging of Salugpongan and the refusal to immediately act on the lumads’ complaints makes it a party to the major cover up being played by the military to hide the atrocities they have committed against the lumads of Talaingod. #
Prof. Myfel Paluga
You may also contact him at Dept. of Social Sciences- UP Mindanao Tel Number: 293-0084