‘Like a scene from Orapronobis’: Police assault Lumad evacuees in Davao church compound

Screen grab from Orapronobis.

The July 23 morning assaultby the police on lumads in an evacuation center inside the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran compound in Davao City brings to mind images from the dark years of Martial Law.

Fully-armed police men forced their way into the church compound to supposedly “rescue” over 700 lumad evacuees who have been staying there and bring them home to Talaingod, Davao del Norte and other parts of Mindanao.

Notwithstanding the lack of any warrant, the  Philippine National Police (PNP) men broke the church gate and hit with truncheons the lumads who linked arms to block them, including lumad elder Datu Benito who sustained hand and head injuries.

Like Brocka scene

Screengrab from Orapronobis.

This incident recalls a scene from Lino Brocka’s 1989 classic film Orapronobiswherein soldiers and paramilitary men broke in a school compound in Metro Manila to round up and nab peasants who sought refuge in the facility.

The poor farmers inOrapronobis evacuated their homes in the village of Sta. Filomena to escape the atrocities of the army and fanatical vigilante groups deployed by the Corazon Aquino in its brutal counterinsurgency war against communist rebels.

Like in the Brocka film, the lumads have sought sanctuary in the UCCP compound after fleeing their heavily militarized communities which have been terrorized by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) soldiers who have set up camps in homes, schools, and public buildings for months now.

Even Chaloka Beyani, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, have expressed concern on the plight of the lumads after the conclusion of his official visit to the country during the last week of July.

“I heard from the AFP its assertion that it is seeking to protect the communities… however the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities,” said Beyani.

“The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection,” added the Beyani.

Cue from fiction

Screengrab from Orapronobis.

Brocka’s Orapronobis was shown to wide acclaim in the Cannes Film Festival but banned from screening in the Philippines because of its underlying message that nothing much has changed even after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.

The same classes of hacenderos, big businessmen, and corrupt bureaucrats beholden to US interests continued to rule in spite of the trappings of formal democracy in the aftermath of the 1986 EDSA uprising that catapulted the first Aquino regime to power.

Reality it would seem took a cue from fiction in the UCCP raid. In a joint PNP-AFP press conference just a day before the police raid, North Cotabato District Representative Nancy Catamco vowed to get the lumads out of the church compound.

Catamco, who has been declared persona non grata by the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon after she condemned the lumads in a dialogue turned awry, took part in the raid with Department of Social Welfare and Development(DSWD) personnel.

The congresswoman, who is ironically head of the House of Representatives’ Panel on Indigenous Peoples, reportedly called the lumads “stinky” for insisting on staying in the evacuation camp.

Also in another press conference with AFP Civil-Military Operations troops, Manobo tribal leader Datu Lumansad Sibugan also threatened to wage a pangayaw or tribal war against the evacuees if they do not leave the church compound.

“Whether they like it or not, we will take the children, women, and elderly from the Haran and bring them back to their homes,” said Sibugan.

The standoff between the lumad evacuees and the police forces hell bent on forcibly taking them from the UCCP Haran compound could have turned for the worse if not for the intervention of Davao City local officials.

Meanwhile, in another ironic twist, it was the progressive leaders who helped the lumads evacuate from their highly militarized villages who were earlier targeted with legal cases for kidnapping, serious illegal detention, and human trafficking.

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region XI and elements connected with the Almara paramilitary group and the 10th Infantry Division of the AFP filed the formal complaints against 15 progressive leaders on May 12, 2015.

And yet, as the United Nations Special Rapporteur noted, “tribal leaders informed me that they are not being detained against their will at the UCCP centre in Davao, as is evident by reports of their periodic return to their communities…”

A continuing reality

But all these is not really all strange given the lack of fundamental social change that accompanied the transition from the corrupt and repressive dictatorship to the post-Marcos oligarchic regimes.

According to the human rights group Karapatan, the current Noynoy Aquino regime is accountable for 262 cases of extrajudicial killings, 27 enforced disappearances, 125 tortures, and the illegal arrest and detention of 538 political prisoners.

The group has also documented over 133,599 cases of threat, harassment and intimidation against activists and common people, 293 cases of illegal arrest without detention, and 60,155 incidents of forced evacuation.

The state of continuing Martial Law and brutal human rights violations under the first Aquino regime as realistically depicted in the Brocka film has persisted for many, especially for the lumads of Mindanao, even up to the present.

In this context, the popular support for the four-decade long communist revolution is not really surprising then, especially among the poor peasants and indigenous peoples in the countryside who long suffered abuse from landlords, soldiers, and paramilitaries.

This is why thousands of people came down from the provinces to march in the streets of Davao City for the funeral march of the late rebel commander Leoncio “Ka Parago” Pitao who was murdered by the army in a fake encounter.

Like Orapronobis’s Philip Salvador who by the end of the film was left with no other option but take up the gun to claim justice, many see the armed struggle as the only way to end ages-old injustice in a society that have long sidelined the poor and oppressed.

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