In a peace forum last Sept. 14, Sister Stella Matutina, human rights activist and nun, encouraged Silliman University to help Lumad refugees in their struggles.
With the theme “Our Land, Our Peace, Our Lives,” the peace forum held at Silliman Hall is a part of the Peace Week celebration.
Matutina said that military groups continue to harass indigenous communities like the Lumads in Mindanao to take over their ancestral land for mining companies.Paramilitary groups organized by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been using violence and force to drive Lumads out of their own lands. The Lumad refugees cannot go back to their homes in Talaingod, Davao and San Fernando, Bukidnon because of death threats.
Through the forum, Matutina explained how the situation of indigenous communities in Mindanao due to mining is not only a social justice and human rights issue, but also an environmental issue.
From Oct. 2014 to the present, paramilitary groups killed 26 Lumad leaders to stop the community from settling in the lands. The most recent victims were Dionel Campos and Datu Sinzo, community leaders, and Emerito Samarca, a Lumad school director, who were killed last Sept. 1.
There are currently 680 Lumad refugees staying at the Haran Mission House of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City and 2,800 staying at the Provincial Sports Complex in Tandag City.
She also challenged the youth to be aware of what she called an ‘ethnocide’ or destruction of an ethnic group, and an ‘ecocide’ or destruction of the natural environment.
In the forum, the documentary titled “Pangandoy” was showed to inform the attendees how the Lumads value schools in their community. They believe that education helps them protect and defend their lands from being exploited by businesses.
Lumad schools are being threatened by the problem of continued harassment by AFP troops who insist that the Lumads are part of the communist group New People’s Army. But according to Sister Stella, these troops had no court orders.
“In places where there are minerals [and] foreign investments, the military is there to secure investments. [The military is] protecting the interests of the mining companies, they are not protecting these [indigenous] people,” said Matutina.
In the documentary, Salugpongan Basic Education Principal Ronnie Garcia also said that military troops are in areas in Southern Mindanao to give way to the approved mining projects.
“Militarization is the machinery used so that land monopoly is maintained and people are maintained as landless people. Is that what you call peace?” added Matutina.
Aside from mining, Matutina said that monocropping and monoplantation in Mindanao by multinational companies are destructive to the environment and the lives of Lumad communities.
Moncropping and monoplantation are techniques in agriculture wherein only one type of crop or plant is grown on the same land for years. This includes using pesticides and other chemicals to stop other crops from growing on that land.
“[Companies] don’t respect indigenous people’s land because there is a greed for profit and money,” said Sister Stella.
“We want Silliman to partner with us,” said Matutina as she appealed to Silliman University to help in the third Manilakbayan event, an annual movement that aims to spread awareness on the human rights violations in Mindanao by asking the government to stop the killings.
Matutina said that Sillimanians could participate in any way they could think of. She also encouraged Sillimanians to remind the university president Dr. Ben Malayang III of his idea to call on the UN for help regarding the violation of the indigenous people’s rights.
A signature campaign by students, teachers, administrators, and civil society leaders in Negros Oriental to petition for the national government to address the violence inflicted on indigenous people or Lumads in Mindanao was also launched during the forum.
Having witnessed the suffering of Lumads or the indigenous tribes in Mindanao, Matutina vowed to spend her life fighting until Lumads can live peacefully in their land. The Benedictine nun is set to receive the 2015 Global Human Rights Award on Dec. 10 in Weimar City, Germany.
The peace forum was organized by the Justice and Peace Center, 350.Org, and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform in partnership with the Divinity School Students Association.
By JameelaAntoniette I. Mendoza