Tribal leader reported missing in Mindanao

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    Members of a tribal community stage a protest outside military headquarters in Manila on Wednesday to call for the disbandment of paramilitary groups in tribal communities (Photo by Lea Fullon)

    Rights groups criticize military over operations in indigenous areas

    Rights groups in the Philippines say a tribal leader is missing following military operations against communist rebels in the southern Philippine province of Davao del Norte.

    Datu Herminio Sumingguil, a Manobo tribal leader, has been missing since October 24 when a paramilitary group known as Almara attacked a village near Kapalong town, according to the rights group Karapatan.

    Sumingguil is leader of the indigenous people’s group “Karadyawan To Tino Katribu” and a vocal critic of the military’s recruitment of tribesmen into paramilitary units.

    “Sumingguil has determinedly exposed the situation of the tribes and criticized the entry of military forces in their communities,” said Hanimay Suazo, head of Karapatan in the Southern Mindanao region.

    News of his disappearance comes after 1,600 Manobo people were forced to flee their homes this week in neighboring Surigao del Sur province after a series of killings.

    Critics accuse the military of using paramilitary groups like Almara as part of a “proxy war” against communist rebels.

    “Out of fear and clearly under duress, several tribal leaders signed the manifesto supporting the paramilitary groups,” Rubi del Mundo, a spokesman for the leftist National Democratic Front, said in an emailed statement to ucanews.com.

    Capt Ernest Carolina, spokesman of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said the military recognizes the “right of tribal groups to defend themselves and their communities”. However, he denied arming members of the groups.

    But Piya Macliing Malayao, who heads the National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines, said at least 50 members of indigenous communities have died since 2010 when the government intensified military operations against communist rebels.

    She accused the military of “unimaginable barbarity and killing with impunity, and without regard for lives of children” as military operations intensified in Mindanao.

    Sumingguil’s disappearance comes as the country this week marked the 17th year since the passage of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, which was aimed at protecting tribal peoples and their ancestral lands.

    Marlea Muñez, executive director of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, said the situation of tribal communities is “a bittersweet existence” even after the enactment of the legislation.

    “The indigenous peoples’ struggle towards peace, development and co-existence with others was not an easy struggle … and it will be a continuing struggle for the next generations,” she said.

    Source: UCA News