International fact-finding mission: Dire rights situation as Martial Law continues in southern Philippines

Posted on 28 February 2018

Photo: Lumad indigenous peoples, farmers and allies call to end Martial Law in Mindanao during a forum

26 February 2018 (Quezon City, Philippines) Under continuing Martial Law in the Mindanao island, in southern Philippines, farmers and indigenous peoples have experienced heightened cases of false charges, harassment, and even torture and killings.

This is according to personal accounts of farmers, indigenous peoples and delegates of a recent International Solidarity Mission (ISM) who gathered at a forum today.

Displacement, torture, killings

Janry Mensis, a farmer from Compostela Valley in the Davao region, recounted how he and a minor “Jerry” was beaten, tortured and barely escaped murder by soldiers under the 71 st Infantry “Kaibigan” Battalion (IB) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The report of the fact-finding mission also found a grim situation in Compostela Valley: “Several families from Talaingod and other communities in Compostela Valley are evacuating because of hamletting and threats.”

“There are around 60 families of Lumads who are now in the Sanctuary area, and still counting. This is due to the massive militarization happening in their ancestral lands prohibiting them to go to their farms,” the report of the ISM added.

The report also described how the AFP, with foreign and local big business, “have instigated a brutal war against indigenous people’s communities in the SocSKSargends region, which resulted in the massacre of eight Lumad leaders in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.”

Adina Ambag, sister of one of the victims of the December 2017 Lake Sebu massacre, [i] decried the inaction of the local government and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) during last Monday’s forum. The massacre, according to the community, was rooted in a land dispute with a local big business firm. [ii]

The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHIHL) compels the Philippine government to respect the right, among others, to not be subjected to physical and mental torture; to not be subjected to forced evacuations and economic blockades.

It also compels respect for the right to life including against massacres; and the basic collective rights of workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, and other sectors. It also demands the Philippine government to respect the right of indigenous peoples to ancestral lands.  

The agreement was signed by the Philippine government with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in 1998 to protect the rights of Filipinos, especially the poor, and lay the “ground for just and lasting peace.”

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Mindanao: Poverty amidst richness in resources

Mindanao in southern Philippines is divided into six regions. According to 2015 data by the Philippine Statistics Authority, four of the five poorest regions in the country are in Mindanao. [iii]

On the other hand, as per the Mindanao Development Authority, eight out of 10 of the top agricultural export commodities come from the island, with the United States the “largest export market” as of 2013. [iv]

During the forum, Jeremiah

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