On May 13, 2016, 15 Indigenous Peoples rights defenders were charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention of more than one thousand Lumad (Indigenous Peoples) in Davao City, Philippines. The Lumad were encamped in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran compound since April 2015, forced to leave their homes and their ancestral lands due to heavy militarization and proliferation of para-military forces in their lands.
The 15 indigenous peoples rights defenders are Kerlan Fanagel, a Lumad leader and member of Kalumaran Mindanao, a Lumad organization based in Mindanao; Sr. Stella Matutina, 2015 recepient of Germany’s Weimar Award for Human Rights; Reverend Jurie Jaime; Sister Restita Miles; Save Our Schools Network spokesperson Ruis Valle; women’s rights activist Mary Ann Sapar of Gabriela; children’s rights advocate Kharlo Manano of Salinlahi Alliance; and people’s rights defenders Sheena Duazo, Hanimay Suazo, Ryan Lariba, Tony Salubre, Jimboy Maciano, Jaja Encosio, Pedro Arnado and Isidro Andao. They are collectively called the Haran 15.
The Philippine military and some government officials have accused these Indigenous Peoples rights defenders of preventing the Manobo peoples from returning to their homes in Kapalong and Talaingod towns even as these same Manobo peoples have continually expressed their fear of returning to their ancestral lands due to the presence of military and para-military forces. The Lumad have also lamented time and again the military’s forced closure of their indigenous schools resulting in the disruption of classes of hundreds of indigenous children.
The Philippine military and several lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to force the Lumad to return to their ancestral lands in 2015, resulting in a scuffle in front of the Haran compound that left several people slightly injured. The abuses against Indigenous Peoples prompted the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights of internally displaced people Chaloka Beyani to visit the refugees.
A case was filed against the 15 Indigenous Peoples rights defenders in 2015 but was dismissed by the courts for lack of evidence. The case, however, was appealed in 2016 by Philippine military-backed individuals and, as a result, the warrant of arrest was issued against the Indigenous Peoples rights defenders. It seems a shameless act of manipulation of the justice system by the Philippine military in order to silence Indigenous Peoples rights activists and defenders.
The IPMSDL decries the attempts by the Philippine military and several personalities in the government to continually harass and intimidate Indigenous Peoples rights defenders. The military has gone so far as to tag these defenders and their organizations as members or supporters of the communist New People’s Army (NPA). This red-baiting is an attempt by the Philippine military to delegitimize the assertion of Indigenous Peoples right to self determination, as well as to demonize advocates who continuously support these assertions.
The IPMSDL is also worried that this incident comes on the eve of the attempts between the new government and the National Democratic Front to forge a just and lasting peace through talks that will cover the root causes of internal conflicts that have led to enforced evacuation of Indigenous Peoples of their ancestral lands.
We must not allow fabricated charges against Indigenous Peoples rights defenders to fan the flames of conflict. The IPMSDL therefore calls on the Philippine government to:
1. Immediately rescind the warrant of arrest issued against the Haran 15;
2. Drop all trumped-up charges filed against the Haran 15;
3. Ensure the peaceful return of the Lumad in Haran to their ancestral lands;
4. Cease militarization of ancestral lands of the Lumad and other Indigenous Peoples.
Ms. Beverly Longid
IPMSDL Global Coordinator