Whitewashing the killing of ‘lumad’

Note: I wrote this commentary for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The way the military brass has insisted on its innocence in the killing of lumad, the indigenous peoples of Mindanao, is reminiscent of Freud’s story of the borrowed kettle.

In this humorous yarn, A borrows a kettle from B and returns it damaged. To defend himself, A says that he never borrowed the kettle from B. But he says that the kettle was already damaged when he took it from B. Lastly, A swears that he returned the kettle undamaged.

For Freud, this contradictory logic demonstrates how dreams work. The perverse mindset of some officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and of the national government also follows this logic.

First, officials claim that the AFP is not in any way connected to the Magahat-Bagani and other paramilitary groups behind the killing of lumad in various parts of Mindanao. “I deny that report na kami ang nag-organize niyan (that we organized the group),” said Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad in a media interview.

They then accuse the slain lumad of being members of the communist New People’s Army, who are legitimate targets in the counterinsurgency war. “If the military has killed lumad, it is not because they are lumad but because they are NPA,” said Winnie Monsod, a member of the AFP’s multisectoral advisory group.

Finally, it is adamantly declared that the killing of the lumad was the work of communist rebels all along. “The NPA is behind all of this,” said one Datu Malapandaw Nestor Apas in a press conference organized by the AFP in Camp Aguinaldo.

As in Freud’s paradoxical logic of dreams, what the AFP persistently denies is confirmed by its contradictory statements. Indeed, some may find this stupidly funny if only it were not the government and the armed forces brazenly hiding the truth and playing with people’s lives.

Emerito Samarca was not just murdered but was hogtied, shot and stabbed many times. His throat was slit with a knife from ear to ear. His body was found last Sept. 1. He was the executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), a school for the lumad in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

On the same day Samarca was murdered, Manobo tribal leaders Dionel Campos and Jovillo Sinzo were also killed in front of several people near Alcadev.

Just two weeks earlier, five members of the Samia family—siblings Joebert and Emir; their 70-year-old blind father, Manobo elder Herminio; and their two teenage cousins—were killed outside their home in Pangantucan, Bukidnon. Only Herminio’s 15-year-old daughter lived to tell the tale.

The list of lumad killings can go on and on. For many, martial law remains a continuing experience three decades after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.

“There is no campaign to kill anybody in this country. There is a campaign to go after everybody who commits crimes, regardless of who they are,” President Aquino has insisted. But the lumad themselves are saying the opposite.

“The military is paying some lumad to commit acts of crime,” said Bai Josephine Pagalan of the Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon sa Caraga. “The AFP is arming paramilitary bandits. If a lumad is killed, the government denies responsibility.”

According to Kalumaran secretary general Dulphing Ogan, the trail of blood in Mindanao leads back to big business interests seeking to invest in ancestral lands. “These areas are the best spots to extract gold, nickel and copper. And these areas are also the remaining forests in Mindanao,” said Ogan.

Even Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel described the paramilitary group hounding the lumad as “a monster created by the military.”

One only needs to recall the brazen manner that military spokespersons twisted the statement of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Chaloka Beyani to realize the folly of taking their words uncritically hook, line, and sinker.

They grossly distorted the words of Beyani to strengthen their spurious claim that the lumad staying at the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines Haran compound in Davao City were victims of “trafficking” manipulated by rebels. This resulted in a fiasco with Beyani condemning the misrepresentation of his findings on the plight of the evacuees who sought refuge in Haran to escape communities militarized by state forces.

Reading between the lines, the President seems to be simply echoing the military’s discourse that the militarization of lumad communities is simply part of “a campaign to go after everybody who commits crimes.” The lumad are good in so far as they remain docile victims who are objects of humanitarian charity. But the moment they begin to build their own organizations and militantly struggle for their rights they are viewed and treated as criminals.

We must therefore be wary of this resorting to doublespeak to justify the repression of people’s rights. Let us never forget that whatever democratic space we have today were won through hard struggle. Indeed, abuses will simply persist if the people do not resist. This truth bears repeating. Against efforts by the powerful to whitewash accountability in the killing of lumad, there is no other recourse but the exposure of the truth.

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