Despite the commitment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines of having “zero” human rights abuses for 2012, peasants and indigenous peoples in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao have been forced to flee their land in the past few months because of increased military presence and activities in the area. The residents have become bakwits – the local term for refugees.
The destructive tropical storm Sendong and a spate of flash floods and landslides hit Mindanao last year, thus creating scores of refugees. Mindanao has also been home to thousands of people fleeing from heavy fighting between Muslim secessionist rebels and government forces.
There are no grave calamities, but many have been forced to leave their communities lately as a result of intense combat operations and bombings by military forces in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, Surigao, Agusan, Cotabato, Davao, Compostela Valley, Zamboanga Peninsula, and Bukidnon.
These communities are known to be sitting on top of mineral-rich areas eyed by multinational corporations. But the military has also pinpointed these areas as strongholds of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed group, the New People's Army (NPA).
The human rights alliance Karapatan has warned that more communities are threatened to be displaced to make way for the entry of large-scale mining operations in the island, with the military serving to drive away the people in favor of big business.
The people's livelihoods are displaced. Their children have stopped schooling. Dislocated from their homes, they have sought temporary shelter in evacuation centers. Here are some of the stories documented by Karapatan and circulated in email groups:
Antolin Gimo, member of KAMASS-KMP, a local organization of peasants from Mahaba, Marihatag, Surigao del Sur. Antolin’s peasant community is targeted for coal and nickel mining operations that is reportedly going to start soon. The people of Bgy. Mahaba went through a series of forciblee vacuation from their homes in 2006 and yearly, from 2009 to the present. On March 2011, elements from the 29th and 23rd IBPA launched air and land reconnaissance missions against the NPA, shelling the areas around the communities.
Bebeth Calinawan Enriquez, member of Butuan City-RTR-Cabadbaran City-Tubay Intermunicipal Mamanwa Organization (APOGAN), a local Mamanwa organization from Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte. She is among the 215 families who fled their homes in March this year due a series of bombings and strafing. Canons were stationed in the middle of the fields, only about 20 meters away from the houses. The Mamanwa are still in evacuation centers in Butuan City, and neighboring barangays, away from their homes and livelihood. On September 2011, Bebeth Calinawan was shot at by the military, detained, and was presented by the military to the media as a victim of the NPAs landmines. Bebeth is also a witness to the hard life in the evacuation centers: of post-traumatic stress, the lack of food, of sleeping on cold cemented floors, of sickness affecting the evacuees, of the government’s lack of response and rejection of their pleas.
Maritess Bulawan, chairperson of Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Kibawe (Namaki) in Kibawe, Bukidnon. Maritess is among the peasant leaders in Kibawe who actively oppose the building of the Pulangi mega-Dam-V that will drown peasant communities. She was involved in the negotiations with local traders from whom they get their farm inputs and to whom they sell their produce. On April 1, 183 families from the town of Maritess evacuated when the military, using two tora-tora planes, dropped 14 bombs that affected three barangays. One civilian, according to Maritess was wounded by bomb splinter. The military also occupied a public elementary school. Maritess believes that the military operation was a retaliation to the previous encounter with the NPA. But as in many other instances, the military train their guns against the civilians. As an active peasant leader, Maritess has caught the ire of the military.
The latest forced evacuations involve at least 80 families from Trento, Agusan del Sur who fled bombings and military operations last May 7, 2012. Karapatan has documented at least 6,556 victims of forced evacuation under the Oplan Bayanihan counterinsurgency plan of the Noynoy Aquino administration.
Indigenous people's groups, environmentalists, and human rights advocates held protest actions at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) last April to condemn militarization. Here is a video of the protests: