Driven out of their ancestral lands, violently dispersed in the cities
State forces must pay for atrocities vs national minorities
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers, condemns the brutal dispersal of protesters composed of national minorities participating in the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya caravan.
UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that for two consecutive days, protests against militarization of peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities were met with brutal force by the same institutions perpetuating violence in the countryside.
On October 18, Lakbayan delegates were hosed down with water cannons while protesting in front of the AFP Headquarters in Cubao, Quezon City. Yesterday, protesters were shot with teargas, mauled, and deliberately rammed and run over by a police vehicle in a demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Manila. According to a report, 42 protesters were arrested and more than 50 were injured, including minors, women and the elderly.
“The lumad, Moro and other national minority groups journeyed hundreds of kilometers from their mountain communities to the miserable evacuation centers in urban centers in their respective provinces. Now they are here in Manila for authorities and the general public to be aware of their plight.”
“They were violently driven out of their ancestral lands by police and military forces to make way for large-scale foreign mining and giant agricultural plantations. Here in the city, the same state institutions responsible for the bloodshed and violence in their communities want to silence them yet again,” said Ramos.
Ramos emphasized that national minority groups and their aspirations for self-determination have been brutally supressed throughout our history due to colonizaton and imperialist plunder.
“The human rights of the Filipino people will never be respected as long as the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Phillipine National Police (PNP) have butchers and mercenaries beholden to US imperialist interests,” said Ramos.
UMA said that PNP Col. Marcelino Pedrozo, commanding officer of the dispersal force and PO3 Franklin Kho, who was identified to have commandeered the errant police vehicle, must immediately be sacked. “Pedrozo acts like a modern-day Buencamino or Paterno – a traitor who is more concerned that we Filipinos might ‘lose face to the US government,’ because we dare speak against this foreign power,” said Ramos.
The Lakbayan contingent, composed of the newly-formed alliance Sandugo and militant people’s organizations, were in fact demonstrating in front of the US Embassy to support President Duterte’s call for an independent foreign policy. They also support Duterte’s stance to end US military basing and joint military exercises in Mindanao and the rest of the country.
Florida Sibayan, leader of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers alliance AMBALA, said that the military and police hierarchy – including AFP Chief of Staff Ricardo Visayas – are heartless butchers. AMBALA was among those who welcomed and accompanied the contingent of Igorot and Aeta delegates from Northern and Central Luzon to Manila last week.
“We express our indignation over these brutal attacks,” said Sibayan, who held AFP Chief Visaya to account for the violent dispersal at Camp Aguinaldo. Visaya was ground commander during the Hacienda Luisita massacre, another violent dispersal involving peasants.
Plantations encroaching on ancestral domain
Most of the victims are Lumad, or indigenous peoples groups from Mindanao. There are already about 500,000 hectares of land covered with agricultural plantation crops primarily for export market in the island, which is equivalent to 12% of Mindanao’s agricultural land.
According to data gathered by UMA, land areas covered by agri-plantations in Mindanao have increased by a total of 79% from 2004 – 2014. Agri-plantation companies, industry groups and the Philippine government are directed toward aggressively expanding agricultural plantations in Mindanao in the coming years. For palm oil alone, the road map of the Philippines targets to expand another 300,000 hectares by 2023.
Other lumads are forced to lease out their land to said corporations for as low as P166 a month for a 25 year lease. Others are forced to become agricultural workers where minimum wages are hardly followed and benefits are not provided. Most lands which used to be planted to food crops are converted to crops for export which threatens the food security and food sovereignty of the Filipino people.
The state through the military and other security forces have been violating rights of the Moro and indigenous peoples through continued harassment, vilification and even killings to protect the interests of these foreign corporate plantations.
“We urge the people to learn more about the issues faced by national minority groups, who are mostly also peasants and agricultural workers who feed our nation,” said Ramos.
The 3,000-strong contingent of the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya is hosted by the University of the Philippines in Diliman where their “kampuhan” or camp-out is open to visitors for interaction and cultural exchange.