Malacanang has called for a “fair and thorough” investigation of allegations of human rights violations caused by militarization of indigenous communities in Mindanao in southern Philippines.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. on Thursday said the Palace was prompted to issue the call to verify claims that the lumad (indigenous people) were forced to flee their communities because of alleged military activities and harassment.
Special rapporteurs from the United Nations, namely Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Michel Forst, already expressed alarm over the reported killings particularly over the incident on September 1 where lumad educators were allegedly killed by paramilitary troops in Lianga, Surigao del Sur as part of efforts to displace them from their resource-rich land.
Reports also attributed certain rape cases to soldiers in the area.
In an open letter published by The Manila Times on Thursday, a group of church people asked President Benigno Aquino 3rd to address the increasing crisis of forced displacement and human rights violations against the lumad of Mindanao.
“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 people. We cannot allow this behavior to continue,” the group said.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Coloma said reports by human rights advocates on the situation of the lumad “warrant” an independent investigation.
Coloma, moreover, dismissed as “baseless and unfounded” the allegation that the President had authorized the military to close down and occupy lumad schools in Mindanao.
“Secretary [Armin] Luistro is leading DepEd [Department of Education] efforts to ensure that schools in the area are maintained as peaceful places. Teachers are tasked with ensuring the safety of students,” he said.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has formed a joint special investigation team that will conduct the investigation.
In a three-page department order dated September 24, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima named five prosecutors from the National Prosecution Service (NPS) and eleven officials and members of the National Bureau of Investigation to compose the investigation team to be headed by NBI Deputy Director Edmundo Arugay.
“The Joint Special Investigation Team shall conduct a thorough and in-depth investigation and case build-up in connection with the alleged transgressions against the lumad, specifically those reportedly occuring at the UCCP-Haran Compound, Davao City; Talaingod Davao del Norte; Pangantucan, Bukidnon; and Lianga, Surigao del Sur, as well as all other related incidents,” the department order stated.
The team was given 60 days to submit a final report of its findings and recommendations, as well as the “filing of appropriate criminal and administrative charges against those who may be found responsible.”