OPEN LETTER

Mr. President—where do you intend the Lumad to go?

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[This is a statement of grave concern by church people on the increasing crisis of forced displacement and human rights violations against the Lumad of Mindanao from Pilgrims Peace.]

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FROM the very beginning of the colonial history of Mindanao until the present day, the Lumad of Mindanao have been taken advantage of, their lands have been grabbed, and their labor has been exploited; more so, when the Lumad have resisted invaders or defended their lands and life, they have been driven out, economically marginalized, and even massacred.

Now the Lumad of Mindanao have asserted their Ancestral Domain at the highest altitudes and mountaintops, within hinterland areas accessible only by foot or at the sea’s edge throughout Mindanao. Still, they are under grave threat from militarization and atrocities of violence by military and paramilitary forces, who have forced them from their communities to towns and cities in fear for their lives.

Since May 2015, there have been more than 4,000 internally displaced people who have fled to the urban areas. From Agusan, Sarangani, Davao Del Norte, Bukidnon, and Surigao del Sur, the Lumad have been forcibly displaced. Taking shelter in public plazas or finding safety in Church sanctuaries, Lumad families suffer all the hardships of internally displaced persons.

We will not seek to oversimplify this travesty unfolding before our eyes.

Defend the Land, Land is Life—has been a banner cry of the Indigenous Peoples throughout the country. And as they have sought to nurture their culture and assert their collective rights to live according to their traditions and ways, including protecting the land of their people, they have been subjected to harassment and forced displacement.

Where are they to go? The Armed Forces in the Philippines—under counter-insurgency Operation Plan Bayanihan—seems to label many Lumad communities as sympathizers or supporters of the New People’s Army and targets them, when they stand for their rights in their Ancestral Domain. As the military and paramilitary threaten them and force them out, where shall they go—for they cannot evaporate into the heavens or dissolve into the seas? Not only is it ethically sound for them to protect their ancestral lands, but it is essential for them to do so. The dignity of our Lumad brothers and sisters is being disrespected and the essence of who they are as national minorities is being threatened with such vicious attacks.

The Indigenous people have every right to resist mining explorations in their Ancestral Domain and to reject the incursion of any so-called “development” project which they do not want. To do so is merely an expression of their right to self-determination. They have modeled for us laudable connections with the environment and have embodied deep stewardship of creation. Likewise, they have every right to education that is culturally-rooted and appropriate for their children, without military harassment or encampments on school grounds.

Allowing the Lumad to be subjected to massive forced displacement and, even worse, massacres, killings, harassment and rampages of terror under a national security plan is tantamount to tolerating cultural destruction or effecting the obliteration, even genocide, of the Lumad peoples. We cannot allow for this behavior to continue.

For this reason, we Bishops, Pastors, Priests, Sisters, Diaconal and Church Workers as well as Lay men, women and youth of the Church, stand together with the Lumad and call:

President Aquino,
Stop the Killings of Lumads in Mindanao.
Pull out military forces from Lumad communities.
Disband paramilitary forces.
Respect the Indigenous Peoples’ right to education, livelihood, and self-determination.
#StopLumadKillings

Signatories:
Rev. Fr. Rex RB Reyes, General Secretary, NCCP
Bishop Ephraim Fajutagana, Obispo Maximo XII, IFI
Bishop Arturo Asi, UCCP
Bishop Gabriel Garol, UCCP
Bishop Lito Tangonan, Ang Iglesia Metodista
Rev. Fr. Ben Alforque, MSC
Rev, Fr. Francisco R. Albano, Diocese of Ilagan
Rev. Fr. Rico Ponce, O.Carm, Order of Carmelites
Rev. Fr. Jess Dumual, MSC
Rev. Fr. Pedro Arguilles, MSC
Rev. Fr. Alex Bercasio, CSsR
Rev. Fr. Brian Espejo, CSsR
Rev. Fr. Mateo Suarez, FdCC
Rev. Fr. Rene Ventajar, CP
Rev. Fr. Gwen Barde, CP
Rev. Fr. Bon Arimbuyutan, MI
Bro. Arsen Sumag-eng, MJ
Sr. Betty Mathay, MM, Medical Mission Sisters
Sr. Ester D. Vite, MM, Medical Mission Sisters
Sr. Erlinda Bauzon, MM, Medical Mission Sisters
Sr. Becky Pacete, MM, Medical Mission Sisters
Fr. Christopher Ablon, Iglesia Filipna Independiente
Rev. Eric Milambiling, UCCP
Rev. Jerome Baris, UCCP
Sr. Helen Frawly, NDS
Sr. Patrica Fox, NDS
Sr. Beth Bunga, NDS
Sr. Agneta Luazon, SFIC, Franciscan
Sr. Aurora Quiros,SFIC, Franciscan
Sr. Cristi O Mendoza, MMS, Medical Mission
Sr. Ponnie Mendoza,MMS,
Sr. Mary Angela Battung, RGS
Sr. Diane T. Cabasagan,RGS
Rev. Irma Balaba, UCCP
Sr. Yovita K. Neonane, CM
Sr. Leny D. Prado, CM
Sr. Arlene S. Bihasan, CM
Sr. Grace B. Esplana, CM
Sr. Noemi Francisco, OSB
Sr. Theodora Bilocura, OSB
Carmencita Karagdag, Ecumenical Women’s Forum
Snap Mabanta, Kalipunan ng Kristianong Kabataan
Benny Mendoza, Kalipunan ng Kristianong Kabataan
Nardy Sabino, Promotion of Church People’s Response
Rebecca Lawson, Pilgrims for Peace
Roy Montes, UCCP
Trelly Marigza, UCCP
Marie Suarez, UCCP
Susan Camania, Solidarity
Rev. Aniceto Villalon, United Methodist Church
RC Gumban, Ramento Project for Right Defenders, IFI
Cobbie Palm, Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform
Rev. Sol Villalon, National in Mission, UMC
Chikai dela Cruz, Kalipunan ng Kristianong Kabataan
Biyaya Quizon, Promotion of Church People’s Response
Agong Capus, Church Office for International Affairs
Jose Arnel Aguilar, Stewards of Creation
Noel Anda, Promotion of Church People’s Response
Norma Dollaga, Kapatirang Simbahan Para sa Bayan
There more signatories. The above are signatories as of the time of the launching of this statement launching on September 23, 2015–Pilgrims Peace /pilgrims.peace.phils@gmail.com / #StopLumadKillings Ecumenical Initiative

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