Lumad women, advocates for peace invigorate Toronto!
On the Toronto leg of their speaking tour, the Philippine delegation for mining justice, the human rights situation and the welfare of lumads (indigenous peoples of Mindanao) and leadership in the peace process faced the Filipino community, including its many leaders, some solidarity groups, and church leaders, last April 1, and delivered much needed information and updates on all three areas. Their speeches resonated with the audience, and many participated eagerly in the Question-Answer period.
Warm welcome was said twice. After Jesson Reyes of Migrante Ontario greeted all, opened the afternoon’s programme and stated the theme of the event as being on the change needed in the Philippines about land, jobs, and justice, the Executive Director of Kairos, Jennifer Henry, was also asked to deliver words of welcome to the public. She reiterated the objectives of Kairos for sponsoring the delegation: to make the overseas operations of Canada’s mining sector open for justice and ensure that Canada plays a leadership role in the Philippines’ peace process.
Emcees Sarah Selise, Anakbayan Toronto chair, Vilma Pagaduan of the popular ETC show (Eto Tayong Caregivers) and later Rico Concepcion of Migrante Ontario requested the delegation to begin the panel speeches. The emcees introduced: Bishop Antonio Ablon of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente/Anglican Church of Zamboanga del Sur; Dr. Anie Bautista, National Coordinator of the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines; Nenita Andes Condez, babaylan and leader of the alliance of Subanen tribes in Zamboanga, and Eufemia Campos Cullamat, woman leader of the Manobo tribes in Surigao. Congressman Carlos Zarate, of Bayan Muna, was also part of the 5-person delegation, but after the Toronto press conference sponsored by the Philippine Press Club of Ontario on March 31, the Congressman had to leave for the Netherlands to fulfill duties as Observer at the GRP-NDFP Peace Talks.
Bishop Antonio Ablon gave an update of the situation in Mindanao. As bishop of the IFI, which is a member of the global communion of the Anglican Church, Bishop Ablon through his ministry in the area, cited and praised the cooperation of several churches in providing support to the Lumad community which has long been suffering militarization and economic hardships. He pointed out the main causes for the impoverished and persecuted conditions of the Lumad to be the presence of many foreign corporations doing exploitative large-scale mining, and as well, in support of these corporations, he also slammed prevailing laws like the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and the national security policies of the Philippine Government which are being used mainly to protect the interests of the foreign giants, to the detriment of Mindanao’s Indigenous and masses. At present, he said that 68% of the military are in Mindanao, and the human rights conditions in that major island have worsened. Human rights group Karapatan has documented 46 activists killed under the Duterte administration, with four peasants killed in Compostela Valley, just last week.From February to March, 22 peasants have been killed. Most of the victims were activists opposed to mining, agribusiness plantations and militarization in their communities. Bishop Ablon is also Chair of Karapatan of Western Mindanao.
While the foreign corporations profit much, Mindanao, he said, although it is the 5th top mineral-rich country in the world, yet it cannot produce a single nail. While the mines extract the land’s minerals, lakes are killed, and it is known that in the space of 13 years, a mountain has been leveled to the ground.
From a book on mining, graphs were shown, including one showing giants corporations, such as the TVI Pacific Incorporated, also have intercorporate relationships with other corporations, including Philippine corporations such as Manuel Paolo Villar, Maryknoll Zamora and Eugene Mateo.
Eufemia Cullamat spoke about the continuing suffering of the Manobo tribes in Surigao. An eyewitness of the Lianga massacre of September 1, 2015, she recalled the killing of Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), Dionel Campos, chairman of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sa Sumusunod or MAPASU, and Campos’ cousin Juvello Sinzo – all killed by soldiers of the 36th Infantry Battalion , Philippine Army (IBPA), the 75th IBPA, AFP 1st Special Forces and their armed paramilitary group. The two latter victims are relatives of Eufemia.
“Samarca was not indigenous, but he taught the indigenous peoples for 11 years,” she said.
“We organized because of our own suffering,” Eufemia said, proudly adding that the founding of the nationwide alliance of indigenous peoples in the Philippines, which is Sandugo (freely translated as “one in blood”) was because “in 2012, we saw the need for unity of all the tribes and groups who are struggling against the oppressive conditions.” She scored the Philippine military’s counter-insurgency program “Oplan Bayanihan” as an agency that terrorizes all those who oppose the abuse and exploitation of their lands by mining corporations.
Nenita, who is from a family of datus in Zamboanga del Sur, says that the Lumad is a farmer, and respects and cares for the land. The land, she says, is for everyone and therefore each one must take care of it. The sacredness of the land to the indigenous is obvious in their rituals: for every act that they do with the land, they have a ritual. It is clear to Nenita, that if the land is taken away from them, and their rights to the land is taken away, or if it is destroyed, not only do they lose their livelihood, but also their culture, and so finally they may become nothing.
When they met with the indigenous people of Barriere Lake, she said the were emboldened, finding out they were not alone in their search for social justice, and for environmental justice.
Dr. Anie Bautista talked about how the ongoing peace talks promise hope to the indigenous people and rest of the Filipino nation, including the migrant workers in various countries. She cited as most important, the possible finalization by both sides of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms.
The section would affirm the sovereign rights of the indigenous to their ancestral lands, and the removal of military troops and their attached paramilitary from Mindanao.
As for the rest of the people, Dr. Bautista concluded, CASER provides for “genuine agrarian reform, and the free distribution of lands to the tiller, which is said would fuel national industrialization.”
Invited to give their responses or comments to the speeches were community leaders and representatives from community organizations or solidarity groups. They were: Richard Patterson from Pinoy in Canada Patriotic Movement; Magdalena Diaz of the Latin American Solidarity Network; Fr. Dante Coloma of the IFI in Toronto; and Muriam Salman, Secretary General of Anakbayan Toronto.
In the question period, many representatives of organizations present addressed their questions to the guests. Some organizations and individuals were: Pinoy in Canada Patriotic Movement, Filipino Workers Network, UFCW, Philip Kelly of York University, ICHRP, IFI, CPC-ML, Kairos Canada,Philippine Press Club of Ontario, PATAC.
There were also very moving songs performed by guest Eufemia Cullamat and singer-composer Norman.
On April 1, Mila Garcia, Vice President of PPCO, presented a plaque of appreciation to Nenita Condez.
In closing, Ben Corpuz of JustPeace Canada, a broad alliance supporting the Peace Talks, encouraged one and all to seek updates on the Peace Talks, and to support the talks in all ways they could. The more involved people are in the Peace Talks, he said, they would bring more hope that the Peace Talks actually bring about genuine change for Filipinos.