Adding insult to injury: martial law extension a grave injustice to Lake Sebu massacre victims

On December 13, it took the majority of Congress members about four hours to approve President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year.

Ten days prior to that, it only took minutes for elements of the Philippine Army to kill eight peasants of the T’boli and Dulangan Manobo tribes in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Since the president’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao on May 23, rights groups have documented an increase in extrajudicial killings.

For the Lumad, the massacre in Sitio Datal Bonlangon, Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu on December 3 is the latest demonstration of atrocities that martial law warrants.

Datu Victor Danyan, Lumad leader of Sitio Datal Bonlangon, was among the eight who were killed by soldiers of the 27th and 33rd infantry battalions of the Philippine Army. Six are still missing.

Testimonies

Adina Ambag, Datu Victor’s sister, was drying corn in the village plaza when Datu Victor instructed his sons Artemio and Victor Jr. and his son-in-law Patu to see if there were suspicious men on the elevated part of the mountain. From the village, they could see dark figures moving among the trees.  Datu Victor stayed behind.

A few minutes went by and Adina heard gunshots. The three young men did not return to Datu Victor’s house.

Datu Victor knew that the guns whose sounds pierced the stillness of the village was aimed at his sons. Adina saw Datu Victor rush out of his house, possibly to his sons’ aid, but he, too, was shot in the head and chest.

The army alleges that Datu Victor, with the seven slain peasants, were members of the New People’s Army. The 27th IB formed a composite team with the 33rd IB supposedly to respond to a report about the presence of armed men in Barangay Ned. An encounter ensued between them and what the soldiers claim as NPA fighters.

Alvina Wali, Datu Victor’s niece and daughter of one of the missing peasants, showed a picture of Datu Victor in a press conference organized by Karapatan. “Dili tinood nga NPA si Datu Victor og iyang mga kauban. Mga mag-uuma sila, nanginabuhi sa bukid ug nakigbisog para sa among yuta,” she said.

[It is not true that Datu Victor and the others were members of the NPA. They farm as their source of livelihood while struggling for our right to land.]

Datu Victor was a staunch leader of Sitio Datal Bilangon in Brgy. Ned in Lake Sebu. He stood as chairperson of TAMASCO (T’boli Manobo Sdaf Claimants Organization) and KELOSCO (Pagkakaisa ng T’boli Manobo sa South Cotabato), indigenous organizations that aim to assert the Lumad’s right to land and self-determination.

A press conference held on December 15. Photo by Erika Cruz.
Lake Sebu massacre victims in a press conference held on December 15. Photo by Erika Cruz.

Business interests

In 1992, David M. Consunji Corp. (DMCI) applied for an Integrated Forest Plantation Management Agreement (IFMA). The company planted coffee on 1,600 hectares of ancestral land, where Datu Victor and the rest of the community resided. When the contract expired in 2004, DMCI refused to give back the land and operations in the coffee plantation went on. Several trips to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to complain about DMCI’s refusal to leave were for naught.

As an act of maintaining their right to land, Lumad families in Brgy. Ned led by Datu Victor took back 300 hectares allotted for the coffee plantation and cultivated rice, corn, and other crops the community needed.

San Miguel Corporation also wanted to hold mining operations in the area. On the morning of the shooting, at around 9AM, barangay chair Bebot Lobreta, with a member of the barangay council and two others, visited Datu Victor’s residence. The village chief talked with him for two hours before leaving at 11 AM.

Adina believes that Lobreta wanted to talk to Datu Victor into letting DMCI and SMC use their land for planting coffee and for mining, in which the Lumad leader refused. The shooting followed an hour after the village chief left his home.

Martial law in Mindanao

Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination condemns the extension and possible expansion of martial law to Luzon and Visayas. “Ito ay pagpapakita ng itsura ng terorismo ng estado ng mamamayang nakikibaka para sa sariling pagpapasya,” Sandugo council member Piya Malayao said.

[This (martial law extension and possible expansion) is a manifestation of the state terror on people fighting for their right to self-determination.]

She pointed out that as a result of the Marawi crisis, several human rights violations have been documented: 400,000 evacuees still staying in evacuation centers; 1,000 missing Bangsamoro peoples; and at least 10 reported cases of extrajudicial killings.

Across Mindanao, Lumad leaders face arrest. In Lianga, Agusan del Sur, the military blocks food aid for Lumad families who have evacuated due to military operations.

In communities where national minorities have already established their own economic, political, and cultural systems, including the independent operations of Lumad schools, a new batch of mining, logging, and plantation ventures is already underway. Data obtained from Sandugo reveal that 50,000 hectares allotted to coal mining has already been approved, including coal mining operations of San Miguel Corporation. Lands for plantations have already reached a million hectares in Mindanao alone. Two thousand hectares of logging concessions have been confirmed.

All these are located on ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

Deadly storm

Samuel Dalimbang of Kahugpungan sa mga Lumad sa Halayong Habagatang Mindanao (KALUHHAMIN) warns of the dangers of the martial law extension. “Sinasabi na protektahan ang mamamayan ngunit ito [martial law] ay naghahasik ng lagim. Delubyo para sa aming mga Lumad ang pagpapatupad nito dahil wala itong ibang pinoprotektahan kundi ang mga dambuhalang kompanyang nais na dambungin ang aming lupang ninuno.”

[(Martial law) is said to protect the people, but it only sows darkness. The implementation of martial law is like a deadly storm because it only protects the big companies that want to plunder our ancestral land.]

Both Sandugo and KALUHHAMIN call for the resumption of peace talks between the government of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to address the roots of armed conflict and to put an end to the civil war.

A call for justice

“Ako niabot diri sa Manila kay tungod nakigbisog ko, kay tungod walay sala among palangga nga datu. Namatay si Datu Victor tungod sa iyahang paghuna-huna sa iyang mga kapamilya ug gidumalaan. Bahala daw mamatay si Datu Victor kay iyaha manang katungod, kay iyaha manang yuta nga gi-ilog sa kompanya,” Adina said.

[I came to Manila to seek justice for Datu Victor who is guilty of no crime. Datu Victor died because he cared about his kin and his constituents. Datu Victor did not fear death because he believed that their right to land was worth fighting for.]

Alvina heeds the same call. “Gusto nako nga makit-an ang akong papa og makabalik sa among lugar kay daghan pa kog isguon nga gamay. Paano na lang mi mabuhi kung wala na among papa?” she said.

[I hope that my father would be surfaced and would be returned to us because I still have younger siblings. How can we live without our father?]

Alvina hopes that their land would be returned to them. “Padayon mi sa pakigbisog sa among yuta kay amoa man ni. Asa pa man mi mo-padulong kung okupahon sa mga negosyo ang among yuta?” she asked.

[We will continue to fight for our land because it is ours. Where else would we go if big businesses occupied our land?]

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