(First of three parts)
IT must be my years in the State University that schooled me in reading between the lines of government and mili-tary reports on extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. What confounds me is that 15 years since I gradu-ated from university, Philippine media still don’t see beyond spin and/or deal with the fact of death and murder beyond what the government says.
So close to the elections, one hopes media could work with bigger pictures, bigger stories, and not just allow themselves to be used by government to paint that nice dandy picture of human rights that will win matuwid na daan another six years in office.
The freedom to pick the news that we focus on is sure one that we abuse.
In the news
Since mainstream news started giving the murder of Lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur some mileage, what we’ve also been treated to is a half-hearted effort at getting to the truth.
The fact is that ALCADEV Executive Director Emerito Samarca and Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo were killed in front of the community they’ve served for years. They were killed by known members of a paramilitary group that has been sowing fear in Surigao del Sur.
The spin is clear, at least to me. Every time extrajudicial killings make it to mainstream news, the government will discredit the victims themselves, by asserting that they are members of the New People’s Army (NPA) – as if that justifies that they be tortured and killed, that they get their heads blown off in broad daylight.
And then the news will be flooded with the purported “evils” of the NPA, and the fact of insurgency. This is to point out that the military and their paramilitary groups have a right to enter these communities in the name of peace and order. They were merely doing their jobs.
Were the media more critical about the press releases they are fed, they could at least contextualize these narra-tives by asking questions. For example: if Surigao del Sur is a “hotbed of insurgency,” doesn’t it say a lot that AL-CADEV and schools like it, Lumad leaders and communities, lived in peace before these killings? If the military and paramilitary are not to blame for this violence, why are whole communities now living in evacuation centers, living in fear of soldiers?
This is the thing: in the cases of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo you have a whole community as witness to the torture and killing, a whole community evacuating their homes in fear of the men in uniform carrying long firearms, and shooting at residents for no reason other than that they can.
At the very least, one expects mainstream media to be looking at regional news sites like Mindanews.com, which carries not just stories about the Surigao del Sur killings, but also about the rape of the Lumad teenager in Davao del Norte. On InsideMindanao.com one will find a fantastic study from CARAGA Watch about mining and violence in the region.
It is via Mindanews that we might hear the voice of reason in the person of Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pi-mentel: “We have been having this kind of problems for the past six years and the Bagani militiamen have been the cause of this problem. This has to stop. The only solution here is for the Army to disband and disarm the Bagani forces. The Army helped in creating this militia group then they should find means to stop and put an end to them.
“It would be hard for the Army to deny that they know these people because members of this Bagani force have been seen within their headquarters. We have seen this militia group carry between 20 to 30 high-powered fire-arms, which costs around 150,000 pesos each. Where did this tribal group get their assault rifles and ammunitions? Why allow this group to just walk around carrying such firearms?”
“We are appearing inutile as we are helpless to do anything. These people are acting like gods.” (5 September)
A sense of history, maybe?
It is the counter-insurgency program of government, i.e., Oplan Bayanihan, that is being pinpointed as the ra-tionale for the killing of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo. Certainly that is worth discussing, and has gotten much mile-age, given human rights organization Karapatan.
But it seems to me also important to take stock of the situation in CARAGA region, and what has brought us to this point when armed paramilitary groups can just take over whole communities and wreak havoc on Lumad lives. Yes, the counter-insurgency program of this government – as with the past government – is part of this narrative. But also what remains unsaid, and what is clear as far as recent history is concerned, is how this violence has every-thing to do as well with the industry of mining in CARAGA.
The Surigao del Sur killings, the presence of paramilitary forces in the region, the strong presence of the NPA, these are contextualized in the bigger narrative of poverty, as well as in the manner in which big transnational min-ing enterprises contribute to the displacement and disenfranchisement of Lumad communities.
The story of course is old and painfully familiar. In 2011 for example, three companies in Surigao del Norte were accused of environmental degradation and dispossessing communities of their lands and water resources, ruining their cultural heritage, and withholding royalty fees due them. (Ocampo, Philippine Star, 8 Oct 2011) In 2012, pro- and anti-mining protests were held across two towns in Surigao del Sur, with the fight for the environment and Lumad cultural heritage facing assertions about the employment and development that mining brings. (Mascari-ñas, Interaksyon.com, 29 April 2012)
In 2015, mining as context of the violence against Lumad communities and the murder of Lumad leaders and edu-cators has yet to be discussed at length, owing to the government’s insistence that this is nothing more but a story about the NPA insurgency and the purported ills it brings to these communities. But that is only part of the Lumad story, and it is a far bigger deeper story than media will have us think.
In 2015 we hope to do better at telling this story.