They walked all the way from the southern island of Mindanao to bring to the public’s attention the gross human rights violations being committed in the different regions.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The “Lakbayanis” from Mindanao have finally arrived in Metro Manila after nearly a week of travel by foot and by caravan.
Some 800 peasant, indigenous peoples and urban poor – the participants of the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2014 – arrived in the evening of Nov. 21 in Alabang, Muntinlupa. They would join a series of protest actions leading to Dec. 10, the International Human Rights day.
Jumorito Guaynon of indigenous peoples group Kalumaran told Bulatlat.com that the people of Mindanao joined this year’s caravan to protest and demand justice for the gross human rights violations in the different regions of the island.
He said that nearly half of the troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are deployed in Mindanao, supposedly to address the insurgency in the region.
The Manilakbayan document said there are 55 battalions, with an estimated 50,000 soldiers operating in Mindanao. Supporting the military in their operations are paramilitary groups, including those organized among indigenous peoples.
In addition to these is the presence of up to 600 US servicemen, whether for military exercises or stationed at the Joint Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) in Zamboanga.
“But in reality, this is just a clearing operation so that big mining corporations or plantations could get a foothold there,” he said, adding that it has resulted to gross human rights violations.
Some 311,000 hectares of mineral-rich forest and agricultural lands are covered by ongoing operations, exploration or are being eyed or applied for by mining corporations, as well as by agribusiness companies, said the Manilakbayan document.
From June 2010 to September 2014, human rights alliance Karapatan documented 221 killings under President Aquino, 77 of these were victims from Mindanao.
There are also seven victims of enforced disappearances from Mindanao out of the total 21. The disappearance of two Manobo peasants in the Caraga region in October brings the missing victims to nine in Mindanao, out of the total 23.
Guaynon said most of those killed from Mindanao are indigenous peoples who are protecting their ancestral domains.
Many leaders, he added, are charged with fabricated cases or subjected to constant surveillance, harassment and red tagging. The Manilakbayan document showed a total of 213 victims.
Also in this year alone, at least 2,446 people were forced to evacuate from their homes due to military operations.
He added that he has observed the same problems in nearly all regions they passed on their way to Manila.
“This is the problem that ties all regions. No wonder that despite the heat and exhaustion, the Lakbayanis continue to walk and express their rage against the government,” Guaynon added.
Meanwhile, Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr. said that allegations of the human rights violations are “baseless.”
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said, “While there is not even a hint that justice will be served on the victims of these killings, the BS Aquino government, through the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has not stopped in its killing spree.”
“Their pronouncements invoking adherence to international human rights standards, are all for show. Even the United Nations human rights experts and international monitors have seen through their lies,” said Palabay.
On their way to Manila, Guaynon recalled how the masses gave them food and water.
He said: “They can relate to our calls. They know what we are fighting for.”