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Indigenous peoples march on Manila

MANILA (Agencies) : Hundreds of people from indigenous groups in the southern Philippines launched a 1,000-kilometre walk to the national capital, Manila, to dramatise their call for an end to the attacks being made by military and paramilitary forces on tribal communities in troubled Mindanao.

The protest march, dubbed Manilakbayan (Journey to Manila), reached the capital city on October 26 and set up a people’s camp, which will stay put for the full duration of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, scheduled to be hosted by the Philippine government in Manila during November.

CBCP News reported that Jomorito Goaynon, a Higaonon chieftain and spokesperson for the walk, said the tribal people of Mindanao are determined to show to the international community what is happening in their communities.

Vencer Crisostomo, from the youth group, Anakbayan, said many students in the capital would leave their classrooms on October 26 to meet the people on the march and hold a weeklong sympathy protest with them.

“We are calling on the students and the Filipino people to open our doors and our hearts to our indigenous peoples who travelled to Manila and help them send their call for justice and peace,” Crisostomo said in a statement.

On October 23, faith and civil society groups held a rally outside the offices of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples in Manila to protest against what they are calling the inaction by the government on the murder and execution of tribal leaders in Mindanao.

“Today, we have a list of indigenous peoples killed because they were defending their rights and promoting the interests of their communities,” Judy Pasimio, the national coordinator of Lilak-Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights, said.

“Sadly, the list is getting longer. And so we ask, where is the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples in all of this? Its silence is deafening,” Pasimio said in pointing her finger at the government.

Ed Garingan, from the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc., said the execution of tribal leaders and attacks on indigenous communities are directly linked to mining.

“We have yet to hear strong protests from the side of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples whenever the military tries to encroach on tribal areas,” Garingan said in backing up the accusation made by Pasimio.

Crisostomo said the execution of tribal leaders is part of the government dirty war targeting rights advocates, environmentalists and leaders of minority groups, especially in Mindanao, to further the interests of big foreign businesses.

Crisostomo also condemned the reported harassment by military intelligence personnel around the campus of the University of The Philippines, where the indigenous people are scheduled to set up their camp on October 26.

Six soldiers were caught inside the campus on October 21 spying on youth leaders.

Katribu, a national alliance of Philippine indigenous peoples, said at least 70 tribal leaders, most of whom are Lumad people from Mindanao, have been murdered since June 2010.

The group has recorded 99 cases of harassment, 22 arrests of tribal leaders, nine incidents of the bombing of communities or farmland, and 54 cases of forced evacuation among Mindanao tribal communities.

The issue came under a renewed spotlight this year after the executions on September 1 of two indigenous community leaders and the head of a school. A paramilitary group is being blamed for the deaths.