AN official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Eastern Mindanao has apologized to UN Special Rapporteur Cheloka Beyani who felt slighted by the officer’s “distortion” of his views on the condition of hundreds of lumad or indigenous people who have sought refuge at the United Church of Christ (UCCP) in Haran in Davao City.
Beyani’s spokesman has accused the AFP of “gross misrepresentation” when it issued a statement on August 7 titled “Lumads in Haran are manipulated: Not Evacuees but victims of trafficking.”
Col. Eduardo Gubat, spokesman for the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), pointed out that description of the lumad as trafficked persons was an assessment of Eastmincom, not of Beyani’s.
“The effect of the statement was not intentional. I humbly apologized to UN Rapporteur Cheloka Beyani for such oversight and for the inconvenience it has brought to the UN Rapporteur,” Gubat said.
As a result of the misunderstanding, he tendered his resignation as Eastmincom spokesman, which was accepted by his commander Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad.
But the Eastmincom maintained that Beyani, in his exit briefing, described the indigenous people who had sought refuge at the UCCP in Haran are “manipulated.”
“The command takes the said observation constructively as guide in pursuing its mandate of protecting the indigenous people from the manipulation of unscrupulous individuals and organizations and help alleviate their sufferings and achieve the self-determination they are working for,” Gubat said.
Beyani described the AFP’s statement as “incorrect, unacceptable and represents a gross distortion of my views on this issue.”
The Eastmincom press release quoted Beyani as saying, “When we asked them about the circumstances in which why they left their areas, they say they were at risk of forced recruitment into Alamara and the movement to that area [Haran] was in protest in relation to the presence of Alamara, so they wanted to make a point that that was what happened. But I have been there for some time, I think they got manipulated.”
Alamara is allegedly a paramilitary group.
“During my recent official visit to the Philippines, representatives of the AFP informed me of their assessment that the indigenous persons concerned in Davao City were victims of trafficking in persons and were being held against their will in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran facility,” the UN Rapporteur said in a statement.
“The indigenous peoples whom I interviewed informed me that they relocated to this facility freely and in response to the militarization of their lands and territories and forced recruitment into paramilitary groups operating under the auspices of the AFP. My reference to their being ‘manipulated’ related to the attempt to forcibly move them out of the UCCP facility without proper and adequate consultation with them,” he added.
Beyani was invited by the Philippines for a ten days that ended on July 31.
“Let me be absolutely clear, the indigenous persons in Davao are not victims of human trafficking,” he said in his statement of clarification.
At the end of his visit on July 31, he called for a peaceful resolution of the situation in full consultation with the indigenous peoples concerned and their legitimate leaders.
During his visit, Beyani traveled to Davao to consult national and local authorities, as well as with the indigenous community, regarding the situation.
“The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection,” he said.