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Guns are the problem not the answer

DAVAO (UCAN) : Guns are the problem not the answer, the president of Ateneo de Davao University in Mindanao, Father Joel Tabora sj, said on October 21 in response to a decision by the Philippine government to arm paramilitary groups to double as private armies for mining companies in the trouble-plagued region.

Father Tabora said that government approval of additional funds to arm civilian groups and private armies is disturbing, particularly amid the recent series of attacks on tribal leaders and their communities.

He added that the proliferation of firearms in areas where tribal people struggle for their rights and the deployment of armed militias and soldiers, will only lead to the deaths of more people.

“Fundamentally, the indigenous people want to be left alone. They want to live their lives as they judge fit. More guns won’t help,” Father Tabora said.

Meanwhile, indigenous peoples’ organisations across Asia have issued a joint call for an immediate end to the execution, assassination and murder of tribal people in Mindanao.

In a letter to the Philippine president, Noynoy Aquino, 73 Asian indigenous organisations expressed extreme alarm over the hunting down and liquidation of Filipino tribal leaders in recent months.

“These incidents occurred while a credible investigation on the spate of killings and other abuses... is yet to take place,” the letter signed by over 70 member organisations of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact reads.

On September 1, armed paramilitary groups and soldiers entered the village of Han-ayan in Liangga town, Surigao del Sur, executing two tribal leaders and the executive director of the Alternative Learning Centre for Agriculture and Livelihood Development.

The executions triggered the evacuation of some 3,000 indigenous people, who continue to live in makeshift shelters in the city of Tandag.

On October 13, Archbishop Nereo Odchimar, from Tandag, warned that indigenous people in Mindanao have become victims of a protracted war between the Philippine military and the New People’s Army.

Father Tabora said indigenous people are sucked willy nilly into the conflict, yet the only thing that local communities want is to be free.

“They want to work their lands according to their customs and traditions, see to the education and welfare of their children, and be happy within the national fold of Filipino peoples,” he said.