Two United Nations experts have urged the government to launch a “full and independent” investigation into the killing of three indigenous people or lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur earlier this month.
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst said the perpetrators of the crime should be brought to justice.
“Military occupation of civilian institutions and killing of civilians, particularly in places such as schools which should remain safe havens for children from this type of violence, are unacceptable, deplorable and contrary to international human rights and international humanitarian standards,” the Special Rapporteurs said in a statement posted on the website of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
They were referring to the killing of school director Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo last September 1 by a para-military group.
As a result, at least 3,227 individuals took shelter at the Surigao del Sur Sports Center in Tandag City.
Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel, in a report he submitted to Office of Civil Defense Regional Director Manuel Luis Ochotorena, said the evacuees came from the towns of Lianga, San Agustin, Tago, San Miguel and Marihatag.
They were given assistance like food, clothes, and hygiene kits by various government agencies including the Philippine National Police, Department of Health and a network of non-government organizations such as Balay Mindanaw.
Karapatan, an alliance for the advancement of people’s rights, maintained that the paramilitary groups Magahat-Bagani together with the 36th and 75th Infantry Battalion were behind the killing of the three lumad leaders.
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of Karapatan, raised doubts on the identity of the three people presented by the military who they claimed can attest that the lumad leaders were killed by members of the New People’s Army.
Enriquez said that Marcial Belandres, Nestor Apas, and Lumansad Sibogan were not lumad leaders in Mindanao.
The Education Forum for Development, meanwhile, reiterated its call on the Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to pull out military units from Surigao del Sur and disband the Magahat-Bagani.
The Special Rapporteurs expressed “serious concern” about the “increasingly pervasive insecurity and rising unlawful killings of human rights activists in the conflict-prone regions of the Philippines.”
Forst also urged the Philippine government to allow his repeated requests to visit the country in order to assess, in the spirit of dialogue and cooperation, the environment in which human rights defenders operate in the Philippines.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, endorsed the call of Tauli-Corpuz and Forst.
WITH BERNADETTE A. PARCO AND NELSON S. BADILLA