The priests in the Diocese of Tandag led by Bishop Nereo Odchimar has condemned the harassment and killing of lumad or indigenous people in Surigao del Sur as it demanded a fair investigation into the root of the incidents.
“As priests of the Diocese of Tandag, together with our Bishop, we all strongly condemn the terrorization, harassments and the killings of our Lumad brothers and sisters, as well as denounced the root cause of it all,” the Church leaders said in a pastoral statement.
They called on the Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for its involvement with the para-military group Magahat/Bagani, which is being pointed to as the group terrorizing the lumad.
The Church officials also alleged that the same para-military group was also used by mining firms to force the people out of mineral-rich lands.
“In a deeper analysis of the situation, it is possible that this series of incidents of threats and harassments could have ceased long ago if there was no one behind all this. One can see and understand that only those community of lumad, who firmly stand to protect the forest and reject mining activities and anything that destroys nature were obviously the ones being hounded and intimidated supposedly by the aforementioned notorious group,” the priests explained.
The AFP, they said, should respond to the allegations hurled against them by various organizations.
The Church leaders called on authorities to implement an earlier agreed decision to destroy, disarm and arrest of the members of the said para-military group.
Likewise, they demanded that charges should be filed against the suspects so that justice shall be given to the victims and their families.
The priests was referring to harassment against the lumad that started last year in the villages of Kabolohan, Yadawan, Emerald, Simuwao, Kabalawanan, Manluy-a, Dikoy, Km16, Han-ayan, and Diatagon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
The last incident occurred on September 1, the executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, Emerito Samarca, was killed by allegedly the same group.