Norly Mercado, executive director of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC), has issued a statement following the killing of eight Lumad* in Brgy Ned, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato by the military on 3 December 2017:
“We condemn the killing of the eight Lumad and the wounding of many others who have been wrongfully tagged as rebels by the military. This is an act of terror by the government. These indigenous peoples were civilians and had nothing to do with communist forces. It is scandalous and callous for government forces to rain bullets on unsuspecting and innocent civilians.
The deaths of eight lumad are the result of red-tagging, or falsely identifying people living in areas where rebels are present, so common in the military. This is a natural consequence of President Rodrigo Duterte’s careless remarks about bombing lumad schools, in his mistaken generalization that all Lumad are communist rebels or supporters.
Instead of reckless statements like these, the president should ensure that these IP communities are protected against big businesses that encroach on their land and territories. The Lumad in Brgy Ned, Lake Sebu have been questioning the renewal of the IFMA (Integrated Forest Management Agreement) for a coffee plantation. They have not been properly consulted, which is a clear violation of the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process. There should be an investigation on how the NCIP and DENR conducted the process, and make the responsible individuals and agencies accountable.
Just a couple of weeks ago, NGOs and representatives from the community met with DENR secretary Roy Cimatu to look into the IFMA for this plantation. The secretary had committed to looking into the renewal of the IFMA, which is opposed by the community. That this military attack was launched, instead of the promised investigation by the DENR, comes as a shock to us and the community.
The members of the Lumad community have now evacuated their land, and their survival hang in the balance. The intensified military campaign of the government against rebel forces will negatively affect the lives of innocent civilians. We have seen in the military campaign in Marawi that while an armed skirmish lasts for months, rehabilitating an area will take years and billions of pesos. We appeal to the government to go back to the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines, and resolve their differences diplomatically.
We appeal to the different agencies to ensure that proper food, water, shelter and health assistance are given to the evacuees.
We urge all parties involved to respect the rights of indigenous communities and recognize that their struggle for their land and territories are genuine, and goes beyond any political and ideological conflict.”
*The eight Lumad who were killed were part of T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimant Organization (Tamasco). The victims were identified as Datu Victor Danyan, his sons Victor, Jr., and Artemio; Samuel Angkoy, Pato Celardo, Bobot Lagase, To Diamante, and Mateng Bantel. TAMASCO is questioning the renewal of the IFMA of a coffee plantation allegedly owned by the Consunji family. LRC has provided TAMASCO with paralegal trainings, precisely to help them use the platform of the law to fight for their rights.