For indigenous peoples displaced from the long-standing conflict in Eastern Mindanao, to go home for Christmas is their only wish.
At a forum on indigenous peoples’ rights in University of the Philippines Diliman on Thursday, Lillian Launezo, a representative of the Save our Schools Network, asked for the disbandment of paramilitary groups as they are the ones who are tagged as main perpetrators of human rights violations.
Lanuezo is a volunteer teacher at Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), a school in Lianga, Surigao del Sur which has been the scene of the most brutal attack against indigenous peoples in Eastern Mindanao to date last September.
Members of the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group are the ones being tagged as the killers of Alcadev executive director Emerito Samarca, tribal leader Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo who were found dead last September 1. Their deaths launched the campaign of “Stop Lumad Killings” which has reverberated from Mindanao to other parts of the country.
“In our area, clearly, what has been perpetrated has been directly pointed to the AFP and the paramilitary groups they have organized. But up to now, no action has been done. We also wish to come home at the soonest possible time.” Lanuezo said.
She said that she fears that their campaign of seeking justice for the slain leaders and the return of the lumads to their communities will be lost in the public’s consciousness.
“We are afraid that the issue of the Lumads, particularly in the Eastern side of Mindanao, is starting to be silenced. We are afraid that the upcoming election season will also consume more of the public’s attention rather than our calls,” she added.
She said that the support of the government in dismantling paramilitary groups would spur the slow and painful process of piecing back their lives shattered by violence.
“We seek the greatest support so that we can come home before Christmas. We are also asking for support for the rehabilitation of our communities. It was not only he displacement of the people but also of their livelihood.”
“Several government agencies need to act decisively on our calls because thousands of people are losing control of their lives and their livelihood as they seek out justice,” she said.
During the forum, Michelle Campos, daughter of slain tribal leader Campos, sang “Hustisya at Kalayaan” as she calls for swift justice for her father.