H.E. Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
JP Laurel Sr. San Miguel
Re: Calling for immediate end to continued killings of and other abuses against Lumad (indigenous) peoples in Mindanao
Dear President Aquino,
It is with extreme alarm that we received a report that another Lumad leader and human rights defender, Lito Abion, was killed on 28 September in San Luis, Agusan del Sur in Mindanao. On the same day in Claveria, Misamis Oriental, military troops reportedly tortured three Higaonon civilians in the course of an armed encounter between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the rebel New People’s Army (NPA). These incidents occurred while a credible investigation on the spate of killings and other abuses of Lumad leaders and community members and advocates over the last few months is yet to take place.
There is a common thread that connects all these killings:
• The victims are all leaders of Lumad communities who were accused of being members or supporters of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).
• The communities where the victims come from are asserting their rights to decide on the kind of development they want while their lands are subject of mining applications.
• Paramilitary groups, who are themselves from indigenous communities, have been openly campaigning for the entry of mining companies and threatening those opposed to these, often in the presence of state security forces.
• There is military presence and armed conflict in the vicinity of the victims’ communities in indigenous territories.
Lito Abion, a member of the indigenous peoples’ organization Tagdumahan, which has been resisting entry of mining operations in the ancestral lands of Banwaon and Manobo peoples in the province, had returned in 2014 from a self-imposed sanctuary since 2005. At that time, a certain Mario Napungahan, a tribal leader and former NPA member who was later recruited as a member of the Civilian Auxiliary Force of the Philippine Army, wanted to merge his Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) with that of the Tagdumahan’s. He accused Tagdumahan leaders and members who refused to sign the application for a unified CADT as supporters or members of the NPA. Later, four Tagdumahan leaders were killed, forcing Abion to seek sanctuary. When he returned to his community years after, Abion was earning a living as a habal-habal (motorcycle for hire) driver. However, he is now dead – shot by two unidentified gunmen.
Meanwhile, the three Higaonon men had been gathering wild plants to use for various purposes like medicine, spice, among other things, in Balahan. They had taken cover when they heard gunfire. When the shooting stopped, they went out of their hiding place, however, the military troops saw and apprehended them. They were accused of being members of the NPA and were abused, beaten and tortured. The military took their photos and their fingerprints, and ordered them to sign a paper – the contents unknown to them – before finally releasing them.
Mr. President, your country is the first Asian country to legislate the recognition and respect of the rights of indigenous peoples through the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) to ensure that indigenous peoples’ right to determine and decide priorities for their development is respected (Sec. 17, IPRA). Your government has pledged that in periods of armed conflict, the indigenous peoples shall have the right to special protection and security, and that indigenous individuals will not be used against other indigenous communities (Sec. 22, IPRA). It has committed that no military activities shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples, “unless justified by a relevant public interest or otherwise freely agreed with or requested by the indigenous peoples concerned” (Art. 30, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)). It has reaffirmed its commitment to respect, promote and advance and in no way diminish the rights of indigenous peoples and to uphold the principles of the UNDRIP, at the conclusion of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014 (Para. 4, Outcome Document).
We urge you not to let Lito Abion and the three Higaonon men join the statistics of killed and abused Lumad human rights defenders and community members. At least thirteen have been killed at the hands of the Philippine Army and paramilitary troops in the past eight months. With Abion, a total of sixty-nine have been killed under the incumbent Aquino regime while there are hundreds of cases of harassments and arbitrary detentions and displacement of thousands of Lumads now living in evacuation camps across the region.
In response to the killings of three human rights defenders – a school director and two tribal leaders – in Surigao del Sur in September, UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples and on the situation of human rights defenders had called on the Philippine Government to launch a full and independent investigation into the killings. The Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions also endorsed the call. We welcome that the Department of Justice has initiated an investigation into the transgressions against the Lumads of eastern and northern Mindanao in response to pressure inside and outside the Philippines on the issue. We call for an independent and transparent investigation to be conducted and broadened to look into the roles of not only the paramilitaries but also the Philippine army in the violence against the Lumads across Mindanao and the root causes of the transgressions in the region.
Further, we appeal to you to take immediate measures to disband all paramilitary groups, whether these are within the investment defense forces or not, and revoke the Executive Order 546, which legitimizes formation of such paramilitary groups.
Mr. President, as you move the peace process in Mindanao, let not the Lumad people be left behind. May your efforts at peace building be inclusive of addressing the Lumad peoples’ plight by fully implementing your commitments to the UNDRIP and the Outcome Document.
We call for your swift action on the matter.
Ms. Joan Carling
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
(On behalf of the organisations listed in the Annex)
Submitted by email to
Hon. Nancy A. Catamco, Chair, Committee on National Cultural Communities, House of Representatives
Hon. Luzviminda C. Ilagan, Committee on National Cultural Communities, House of Representatives
Ret. Lt. Gen. Voltaire T. Gazmin, Secretary, Department of National Defense
Rep. Guillermo Romarate Jr., Chair, Human Rights Committee, House of Representatives
Hon. Ronaldo Y. Corvera, Mayor, Municipality of San Luis, Agusan del Sur
Hon. Yevgeny Emano, Governor, Province of Misamis Oriental
Hon. Redentor N. Salvaleon, Mayor, Municipality of Claveria, Misamis Oriental