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Fear is name of the game in Mindanao

DAVAO (UCAN) : The number of displaced tribal people on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao continues to rise as another group of villagers began seeking refuge at temporary shelters in Davao City from October 10.

Some 165 people from the Pulangihan Manobo indigenous group said they fled their homes in a remote part of Bukidnon province after soldiers from the Philippine Armed Forces arrested several people in the village.

“We cannot return because of the presence of the soldiers,” Ellen Manlibaas, a leader of a peasant organisation in the area, said. “The people are scared of the soldiers.”

Manlibaas explained that the people decided to leave their community after soldiers burned the house of a village leader and the office of a local cooperative.

The same soldiers were earlier accused of trying to demolish an indigenous school named after an Italian priest.

The new wave of displaced people joined some 700 who are already sheltering in temporary accommodation at the compound of the United Church of Christ in The Philippines in Davao City.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in The Philippines, based in Rome, has issued a statement denouncing the murder of tribal people that resulted in the earlier displacement of villagers.

Buboy Salle, the group’s spokesperson, urged Church leaders to “take action and be compassionate, because the tribal people are not just Filipinos, but also children of God.”

The United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency has documented 6,000 indigenous people who have fled their homes in Mindanao, because of atrocities and threats from government soldiers and paramilitary groups.

“Until security is provided in these rural communities... indigenous people most likely will remain displaced away from their livelihood for a long period of time or encounter repeated displacement from fear of armed actors in their communities,” the UN agency warned.

Between March and October this year, the UN agency documented the murder of 14 indigenous leaders, rights advocates and villagers, including children, in five incidents of extrajudicial murder and four massacres.

A spokesperson for the president of The Philippines, Noynoy Aquino, said the government is not turning its back on the tribal people of Mindanao.

“The government is continuously addressing the situation of the indigenous peoples in Mindanao and is working tirelessly to ensure their safety and to protect them from unnecessary acts of violence,” the president’s spokesperson, Herminio Coloma, said.

Meanwhile, Father Giovanni Re, the superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Dipolog City, told AsiaNews that no one has made contact over the kidnap of a former priest, Rolando del Torchio, who was dragged from a café he runs in the city on October 8.

Footage from CCTV cameras suggests that the kidnappers may have been from the Commander Red Eye, a gang linked to the Abu Sayyaf, which has carried out kidnappings in the past.