Since 2011, the north eastern region of Mindanao known as Caraga has been a staging ground for increased militarization. In February 2012, the Armed forces of the Philippines (AFP) began to use Lumad (indigenous) ancestral mountain lands as staging grounds for their increased combat operations ranging from live fire excursions to aerial strafing and bombing runs.
On March 5, 2012 aerial forces dropped 8 bombs on the triboundary of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Norte. The following day, March 6th, 4 bombs were dropped. Both bombing runs were accompanied by strafing fire from accompanying fighters. Ground-side, infantry and special forces elements (from the 30th,38th IBPA; and 3rd Special Forces of the 402nd) inserted themselves in the village public places and even some homes. These 0perations are in accordance with current President Aquino’s counter-insurgency op ‘Oplan Bayanihan’ and will stop only when all communist rebels are annihilated.
Due to the disregard for life and the livelihoods of the lumads by the AFP as displayed by the shelling and bombing of their lands and the errant, indiscriminate fire of soldiers upon the community, more than 200 families evacuated their homes and made the long trek down the mountains carrying their children and what they could to escape shock, terror and harassment inflicted upon them by the very government that is sworn to uphold their rights as citizens.
Military operations have increased in the mineral-rich areas at such a time when mining operations are scheduled to begin, inviting probes as to the ‘true’ motivations behind the afore mentioned combat actions. Lumad rights defenders and other partylist groups (such as the GABRIELA National Alliance of Women and KASALO-Caraga) have come to the conclusion that the combat operations are clearing operations meant to suppress lumad resistance against mining incursions to their ancestral lands.
As a member of the United Methodist Church and a human right defender, I condemn the actions of the AFP forces and the intense militarization of the ancestral domain of the Lumads. I condemn the propaganda of ‘Oplan Byanihan’ stating that it will bring development to the lumads. I support the decision of the lumads and their demand for an end to the militarization of their land. I support organizations like Gabriela-Caraga and Kasalo-Caraga who demand accountability from the government for the actions of its armed forces against its citizenry. Said accountability should be provided as assistance and concrete actions to halt all operations in the lumad domains.