MANILA, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) — A regional organization and several local religious groups have condemned the recent killings of indigenous people, locally called lumad, in the southern Philippines.
In a statement, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) blamed the government for not doing enough to protect the country’s indigenous population, particularly those in the far-flung areas in Mindanao, the second largest island of the Philippines.
The AIPP, whose secretariat is based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a regional organization founded in 1988 by indigenous peoples’ movements. The group, with 47 members in Asia, is committed to promoting and protecting indigenous peoples’ rights.
The AIPP called on the government of President Benigno Aquino III to promptly conduct an independent and transparent investigation into all the extrajudicial killings under the current regime.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which is composed of Roman Catholic bishops, and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), a non-Catholic religious group, have also urged the government to resolve the killings and put an end to the “militarization” of the areas where indigenous people live.
“We call on authorities to bring to justice the death of our lumad brothers … and permit the conduct of independent fact finding missions,” the religious groups said in their statement.
At a recent forum, President Aquino III categorically denied that “there is campaign to kill anybody in the country,” adding that he has already ordered the Department of Justice to investigate the reported killings of indigenous Filipinos in Mindanao.
On Aug. 18, soldiers in the province of Bukidnon allegedly killed five members of a lumad family, including children aged 13 and 17. On Sept. 1, armed groups also killed Emerito Samarca, director of a tribal school in Surigao del Sur, and two others.
On Sept. 28, another indigenous people, identified by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines as Lito Abion, 44, was killed by armed groups in the adjacent province of Agusan del Sur.
At least 13 human rights defenders and community members, including two children, have been killed in five incidents of extrajudicial killings and four massacres in the past eight months.
Some 4,000 indigenous people, who have fled their mountain villages, are now housed in town centers in the province of Surigao del Sur.
The killings of indigenous people are mainly in the landlocked provinces of Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte in Mindanao, some 1,000 km from Manila.
The lumads, also called cultural or tribal communities, are the Manobos, Mamanwas, Aetas, Bagobos and Higaonons. They, along with Filipino Muslims, have inhabited a large swathe of Mindanao even before the advent of the Spanish era.
Human rights groups said government troops, who are alleged ” protectors” of mining and logging companies, are responsible for harassing and killing leaders of indigenous inhabitants who are against the exploitation of their natural resources.
But some are saying that the indigenous people are being caught in the crossfire between government forces and armed guerrillas of the New People’s Army (NPA).
According to the AIPP, the killings of innocent indigenous people in Mindanao at the hands of paramilitary and security forces are gross violations of human rights.
The group said it was “deeply alarmed” that the reason behind heavy militarization of lumad communities in Mindanao is allegedly to protect the interests of mining companies and other corporate entities in plundering the mineral resources in the ancestral homes of the indigenous people.
This article was produced by the Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China. Xinhua describes itself as the “information organ of the central government.” Given China’s size and importance, GlobalPost publishes Xinhua’s press feed as a resource for its readers and makes no claims as to journalistic accuracy.