April 6, 2018
On day 1 of international fact-finding mission in Mindanao:
rights defenders and peace advocates, met with military harassment and intimidation
Divided into three teams to simultaneously probe cases of human rights violations in peasant and Lumad communities in Southern Mindanao, Northern Mindanao and the Caraga region, members of the International Fact-Finding Mission to Defend Filipino Peasants’ Land and Human Rights Against Militarism and Plunder in Mindanao were met by military intimidation and harassment just as soon as they arrived early this morning at their respective airports of destination in Davao City, Lagindingan and Butuan City.
“We were welcomed by presumably state troops who kept on taking pictures of our mission team to obviously intimidate us or discourage us. They even flashed a tarp banner at us with the words “just do it right,” they’re veiled but malicious way of course of trying to threaten us,” said Antonio Flores, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and head of the Caraga mission team. The same style of “welcome” were reported by the two other mission teams.
The teams were also reported to have been closely tailed by several vehicles on their way from the airport to the orientation sites and from there to the barangays where focused group discussions with rights violation victims were scheduled to be conducted. The convoys of the mission groups were also stopped several times at different points by combined elements of the PNP and Scout Rangers for no apparent reasons.
“Our team were blocked for three times by police and military forces on our way from the airport in Lagindingan to Cagayan de Oro, and another eight times from there to the mission site in Barangay Patpat in Malaybalay, delaying our trip unduly and proving just how keen the authorities are in Mindanao in trying to derail our fact-finding mission,” said Rafael “Ka Paeng Mariano, former secretary of the Department of Agrarian reform and head of the Northern Mindanao mission team.
The teams, however, were undeterred and were able to finally proceed to their respective mission areas. “We managed to get past all the checkpoints so far after seemingly endless negotiations with the state forces but this is only the first day and the day is still long and so we must remain vigilant throughout the rest of the day and the entire duration of the three-day mission. We came here for a very urgent reason, we came here to verify mounting reports of rights abuse against peasant and Lumad communities perpetrated allegedly by military elements. Political extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations have not waned and there is no sign whatsoever that the AFP will de-escalate its militarization campaign in the countryside. There are already 126 documented victims of political killings as of December 2017; 110 victims are farmers and peasant leaders mostly coming from Mindanao. No wonder the military people do not want us here,” Mariano said.
According to KMP, these atrocities in Mindanao and other parts of the country are part of government’s counterinsurgency campaign “Oplan Kapayapaan” that tags civilians as members and or supporters of armed rebel groups and are therefore “fair game” or targets of military attacks. A total of 71 full battalions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are operating in Mindanao, of which 41 are focused on counterinsurgency. At least 65% of the AFP’s combat troops are said to be concentrated in Mindanao, where large-scale foreign plantations and mining concessions are to be found.
“The unabated militarization and Martial Law itself in Mindanao must be understood as a means for government, big landlords, oligarchs and multinational corporations to further bulldoze their way into the vast lands and resources of the island. This is not the way to genuine development when rural folk are displaced and even killed when they resist. This is not the way to address the roots of the armed conflict. This is not the way to a just and lasting peace,” Mariano said.
Mariano and other prominent progressives, rights defenders and peace advocates, including former congressmen Satur Ocampo and Fernando Hicap, and incumbent representatives of the Makabayan bloc, are currently part of the International Fact-Finding Mission to Defend Filipino Peasants’ Land and Human Rights Against Militarism and Plunder in Mindanao which is organized by the KMP and the Mindanao for Civil Liberties. Also joining the 3-day mission are the Asian Peasant Coalition, PAN Asia Pacific, People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, International League of Peoples Struggles (ILPS) Commission 6, Youth for Food Sovereignty (YFS), KARAPATAN, and Tanggol Magsasaka.#
Southern Mindanao team:
Danilo Ramos, KMP Chairperson 09974182478
Jay Cuesta, Anakpawis media officer 09425745898
Northern Mindanao team:
Rafael “Ka Paeng’ Mariano 09982898052
Hazel Ramirez, Amihan media officer 09204896066
Antonio Flores, KMP Sec. Gen 09212726682
Nadja de Vera, UMA media officer 09162436843