IT astounds me that there has been radio silence from Malacañang with regard to the Lumad in Manila – now on its second week over at the Liwasang Bonifacio (thank you Mayor Erap!).
I don’t get it. How can government pretend that the Lumad are not here, and how can its National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) fall quiet like it is not being pinpointed as the government institution that has allowed the large plantations and mining interests to gain ground on indigenous peoples (IP) lands?
Distracting from the Lumad
There are of course many ways to distract the public from the Lumad crisis.
For example, the lack of decisiveness in solving the problem of the tanim-bala / laglag-bala scheme at the airports, has kept that story going – never mind that the simplest solution is to decriminalize carrying a bullet in your baggage. Confiscate the bullet like you do Swiss knives and nippers, nail cutters and lighters, and you disable the modus operandi completely.
There is also the insistence on talking about APEC week, and how we must put our best feet forward. At least for four days, heavy traffic will be a thing of the past, because it is after all a stretch of a holiday. They’ve been Imeldifically beautifying our streets, removing vendors from our sidewalks, towing cars in no parking zones.
They must be picking up the poor and bringing them to some resort as we speak – remember that this is part of the Social Work Department’s notion of “helping the poor.”
There is news that there will be no mobile phone signals –for APEC delegates’ and visitors’ safety. There will be no flights in and out of Manila – for APEC delegates’ and visitors’ safety.
So this is what shutting down a whole city looks like. And apparently it’s the only way government can promise to secure international guests in this country.
I’m sure everyone can see through this farce.
Muddling the Lumad crisis
But of course one can expect a word or two – or 10! – from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). If only so government can say that they in fact care enough to say something.
But the CHR’s statement muddles the issues that the Lumad has brought to Manila.
The issues are clear: order the military and paramilitary to leave Lumad communities and stop with sowing fear in the lives of the Lumad. Let the Lumad children learn in their schools, let the Lumad teachers do their jobs. Let the Lumad leaders speak for their communities without fear of being tortured or killed.
Leave IP lands alone. These are not up for sale to big plantation owners, or big mining companies.
But the CHR isn’t listening. As far as they are concerned, equally at fault here are the Armed Forced of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People’s Army (NPA). Chaired by Jose Luis Martin Gascon, the CHR believes that the Lumad are but mere victims of a turf war between the AFP and the NPA. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3 November)
This confuses me no end, coming from the CHR. Because what it does is paint the Lumad as nothing but victims of a purported war, instead of pointing out the fact that they are actually the targets of a war. You know this because they are the ones who are displaced and disenfranchised, they are the ones who are being tortured and killed and rendered voiceless.
They are the ones who are losing their land and communities and cultures in this act of displacement. And they know who their enemies are. They are no mere victims of a war between two armed factions. They are the targets of a war that seeks to protect mining and large capitalist interests.
And we all know who is protective of those interests.
Not listening to the Lumad
The CHR statement fails to acknowledge the many Lumad stories that have already been told. The CHR is not listening to the Lumad who are in Manila, ready to speak.
If they listen, they would hear that none of the Lumad speak of the NPA at all. In fact all that we hear about is the atrocities that have been brought about by the presence of the military and paramilitary forces in their communities.
If they listen, they would hear of young children who watched their fathers and community leaders being killed by paramilitary forces. They would hear of how wearing running shoes instead of slippers, and running too fast in public, are reasons enough for the military to suspect you of being a member of the NPA.
They would hear of how the more outspoken Lumad leaders never walk the streets alone, lest they are subjected to violence by the military and paramilitary, with no witnesses.
If the CHR were open to actually listening to the Lumad, they would hear not just their stories, but also the fear in their voices. They would hear sadness and pain. They would hear dismay and disgust. They would hear the impossibility of living where they do, and yet here they are wanting their lives back from their enemies. And those enemies are clear.
One wonders when the CHR will see this issue with that same kind of Lumad clarity.