Snapshots from the Philippines: Human Rights Account from Northern Mindanao

Many of us associate the Philippines with fruits, mineral reserves and one of Asia’s oldest armed conflicts, all of which are primarily concentrated in the southern island of Mindanao. This picturesque island is home to the Lumads (Indigenous Peoples- IP) and the Muslims, who have inhabited this mineral rich landscape for centuries.

Republic of the Philippines

For decades now, Mindanao has been an agribusiness haven for many multinational investments like Del Monte and Dole Food Company. Due to its climate, geographical location and proximity to its exports markets, thousands of hectares of land, sometimes belonging to various Indigenous Groups, is leased for banana, pineapple and rubber plantations. More recently, there has been a rising trend in agribusiness ventures, namely ‘Bio fuels’ and other ‘food driven investments’ by ‘Developed Countries’, which cater only to the export markets of the Philippines, thus threatening the food sovereignty of the local population.

The other growing concern for the Indigenous communities in Mindanao is the increase in foreign investment in the mining sector by mining giants like Xstrata, and many more. Instead of translating into opportunities, means of sustainable livelihoods and better standard of living in the respective Indigenous communities, these projects have simple lead to systematic marginalisation of these already impoverished communities. Furthermore, to encourage Foreign Investment in this troubled island, the Philippine government has organised the Investment Defense Forces (IDF), a part of the Armed Forces of Philippines (AFP), as a defacto means to protect corporate interests and operations such as large-scale mining and agro-chemical plantations.

Increasingly many Lumad chieftains of the IP communities in Mindanao are turning into human rights defenders to voice their concerns against mining, agribusiness and infrastructure development investments that pose a social as well as cultural threat to these IP. Tragically, these efforts have resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and often militarization in these tribal communities under the relevant pretext of fighting the communist rebels. Since 2011, there have been at least 12 corroborated accounts of extrajudicial killings in Mindanao that were carried out by state-backed militias or private armies and, the Armed Forces Philippines and their paramilitary groups. Such cases rarely get investigated or prosecuted, thus creating an environment of impunity to continue violations and suppress those who dare to defend their basic rights.

Image Source: Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao

Earlier this month, 34 displaced Lumad families went on an indefinite hunger strike in Malaybalay city, Northern Mindanao, to protest the government’s failure to apprehend the killer of Jimmy Liguyon, an anti mining activist. These families had unanimously supported Liguyon in opposing the entry of large scale mining companies on their ancestral land. In early March 2012, the 36-year-old Liguyon was assassinated by the leader of a paramilitary group. This resulted in the fleeing of the 34 threatened families from their village in rural Bukidnon. The killer is the leader of a paramilitary group called New Indigenous People’s Army for Reforms, which is said to be under the control and protection of the 8th Infantry Battalion stationed in Bukidnon. With the help of indigenous NGOs, Mrs. Sharon Liguyon went to great lengths to seek justice that only resulted in the issuance of a valid arrest warrant. The perpetrator is still free and – with his paramilitary group-continues to terrorize communities in Bukidnon while the 34 families including children continue to live a displaced life in appalling conditions.

Despite this being is one of the few cases that have managed to gather significant international attention, the Government of Philippines has done nothing but compelled these already marginalized Lumad families to choose peaceful and non violent means of seeking justice.

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