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Calls to stop the genocide grow louder

MANILA (UCAN) : Church groups in The Philippines have joined their voices with an ever growing number of people calling for a stop to attacks on indigenous peoples and the murder of tribal leaders in the southern region of Mindanao.

“It is our utmost obligation to hear the cry for help and stand with the poor,” Sister Francis Anover, the national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of The Philippines, said.

Sister Anover described calling for an end to attacks on tribal communities as a moral imperative. She described it as a concretisation of the teachings of Christ and something that cannot be stood aside from and ignored.

Priests, sisters and seminarians, as well as pastors from Protestant Churches have joined thousands of human rights advocates, students and civil society groups in welcoming hundreds of tribal people from Mindanao, collectively known as Lumad, when they arrived in Manila on October 26 after a 1,000-kilometre trek from Mindanao.

Aside from dramatising their demand for the pullout of troops from their tribal land and from among their communities, their month-long march dubbed Manilakbayan (Journey to Manila) aims to create national and international awareness of the plight of the indigenous peoples of The Philippines.

They intend to sustain their camp until the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit, scheduled to be hosted by the Philippines this month, in order to make their grievance internationally visible.

“Allowing the Lumad to be subjected to massive forced displacement and, even worse, massacres, killings, harassment and rampages of terror... is tantamount to tolerating cultural destruction or effecting the obliteration, even genocide, of the Lumad people,” a statement issued by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in The Philippines says.

“We cannot allow this behaviour to continue,” the statement, signed by some 1,200 Church leaders, including Bishop Broderick Pabillo; Obispo Maximo Ephraim Fajutagan, from the Philippine Independent Church; Bishop Reul Marigsa of the United Church of Christ; and the Father Rex Reyes, from the National Council of Churches; continues.

Tribal leaders in Mindanao had earlier called on the bishops to “actively intervene to end the militarisation of areas where tribal communities live.”

In a statement, the auxiliary in Manila, Bishop Pabillo, said the Church in The Philippines stands with tribal people, who have been victims of abuse and persecution.

The people’s caravan from Mindanao was welcomed at the University of The Philippines campus in Quezon City on October 27 with songs, chants and hugs, after its 1,000-kilometre journey.

Visibly upset students offered bottled water and food to the weary travellers, while the Lumad children handed out handmade bracelets and head gear during a welcome encounter on the kilometre-long avenue leading up to the nation’s premiere university.

A series of programmes was jointly organised by indigneous people and students of the university to call for an end to the paramilitary attacks. It ran until  November 1.

The southern region of Mindanao is known to be rich in mineral deposits of gold, copper, silver, nickel and chromite. It also hosts, if somewhat reluctantly, some of the world’s largest mining companies.

Data from the indigenous peoples’ group, Katribu, shows that at least 53 Lumad people have been murdered since 2010, when the current president, Noynoy Aquino, came to power.

Documentation held by the group shows that the murders have intensified in 2015, claiming 13 lives as of September 1.