Hundreds of indigenous people in the Philippines have marched from Mindanao to Manila to demonstrate against the recent attacks of their tribal people.
The group has launched a month-long event called the “Manilakbayan”.
Among the planned activities is the people’s camp at the University of the Philippines.
Madonna Virola reports from Quezon City.
Tents have been pitched and there are also booths showcasing the Lumad people – the indigenous people of the southern Philippines.
Some 700 indigenous Lumads and their supporters have set up camp here in the grounds of the University of the Philippines.
They have gathered to talk, chant and dance, to bring an end to the attacks on their people, including a string of recent killings.
Seventeen-year-old Michelle Campos is daughter of Lumad leader Dionel Campos, who was brutally killed on September 1, at an agricultural school in the southern Philippines.
“It was dawn when a troop knocked hard on the door, threatening to shoot people if they didn’t gather at the basketball court. My three younger sisters saw the paramilitary forces shoot my father in the head,” she recalls, “The children were very afraid. People were threatened to be killed if they did not evacuate.”
Michelle Campos says her father was only defending their ancestral land against attempts to mine in the area.
Activists say five indigenous Lumad have been killed this year and some 40,000 have been forced to evacuate in the last two years.
Ariel Casilao, from the Anakpawis Party, is from Mindanao and is among the organizers at the People’s Camp.
He says the government of President Benigno Aquino has allowed corporate interests to come first.
“The problem is wherein people,” he says, “Groups or organizations that are critical to this government, protesting large scale intrusion to their ancestral lands because of large scale foreign projects like mining, logging, agri-corporations, plantations.”
Ariel says that more 80 schools in Mindanao have also been subject to harassment and attacks. There have been incidents of arson, teachers harassed and threats of schools being closed down.
Some say a paramilitary group that is believed to have links with the military, was behind the recent killings of the Lumads.
But military chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri has denied the army was involved.
Catholic priest and anthropologist Albert Alejo in Davao says several groups have targeted the indigenous Lumad.
“Indigenous peoples in Mindanao are killed sometimes by the military, and at other times by the armed rebel groups, called the New Peoples Army,” he explains, “There are also indigenous peoples killed by some guards of mining company. There are also indigenous groups killed by the private army of politicians.”
Senator Loren Legarda says the government is conducting an investigation into the Lumad killings.
But the investigation, which includes the national police, human rights commission and the department of justice, is yet to release its results.
Senator Legarda says it is still unclear who is behind the killings.
“This could be paramilitary forces, vigilante groups, who were created by executive order in the previous administration who ran out of control and are now like a bandit group or perhaps are being used by some public or private interest and they are armed,” says Legarda.
The UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has also said the attacks point to a need for peace talks – between the government, the New Peoples Army and the National Democratic Front, a group of leftist organizations.
But in the short term, priest Albert Alejo says the killings have to be stop.
“This is a general call. Let the indigenous groups flourish with their indigenous political structure, with their indigenous culture, with their customary law and indigenous conflict resolution strategy, into supporting the initiative of strengthening the indigenous political structure so that tribal communities could stand on their own,” he says.
Back at the people’s camp at the university in Manila, Michelle Campos says life is more difficult now without her father.
Yet she plans to finish her studies so she can stand up for the rights of her family.
“This is what my father wants,” says Campos, “Education is important. It gives honor to us Lumads it is sacred, it teaches us our rights, it’s why we should protect our ancestral land, not to be discriminated and to progress as a people.”
In the Lumad camp, the indigenous people of the Philippines hope that justice can soon be served.