TAPAZ, Capiz – Indigenous peoples tumandok, in preparation for their regional assembly, the largest gathering of IPs in the island, are facing threats, harassment and intimidation committed by the armed forces similar to those experienced by the farmers and indigenous peoples of Mindanao.
Marevic Aguirre, chairperson of TUMANDUK indigenous peoples organization said that they have been facing complications in arranging the venue for their assembly due to intimidation from the Philippine Army.
Around 9 this morning, more than 40 members of combined forces of the 61st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and Philippine National Police of Tapaz trooped to Barangay Katipunan, the venue for the 10th TUMANDUK assembly this April 8-10 for a community gathering, the TUMANDUK reported.
Led by certain Col. Peña, their commanding officer, 20 fully-armed military men surrounded the village gym, about 7 roamed around the grounds of Reverend Tomas Conejar National High School, some 200 meters away where on-going constructions are happening for the assembly and within the vicinity of the TUMANDUK center where 50 members of the youth are rehearsing, the report said.
Six police forces, led by police superintendent Rodriguez are also scattered around the gym and six military men in civilian clothing are also around taking photos.
“We condemn this act of the military to suppress our freedom of assembly. Before this, the council of Barangay Aglinab where the 9th Tumanduk Assembly was held in 2014, already denied our request for venue because they fear that the army will harm them if they host our 10th Assembly.”
“These acts of the army are clear harassment and intimidation against us indigenous peoples to prevent us from holding our biennial assembly which has been going on since 1996.”
After Aglinab, the IP organization then sought the approval of the village council in Katipunan for the hosting of the venue. Majority of the council members approved the request, just like in 2009 where the 7th assembly was held.
But the army is very eager to stop the IPs assembly.
Army told to leave community
They had a film showing inside the village gym regarding the New People’s Army (NPA) and reiterated that the community has a resolution prohibiting non-community members to hold activities in the village. The gathering of about 80 village members was composed mostly of senior citizens, women and children and minors.
But during the forum, the commanding officer instead received complaints of their stationing at the village’s mini-market.
“One elderly woman stood up and angrily told Col. Peña to pull out his men from the community market and stop using the barangay’s mini-market as their headquarters,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre added that residents told the military that their presence have brought nothing but bother to the community’s life.
On his part, Col. Peña said that if the community doesn’t want them anymore, they will just be in the outskirts because of alleged NPA presence in the community.
The military has been using the market as headquarters since last year. Last February 20, the NPA attacked the army’s peace and development team (PDT) for stationing at the village.
“The Philippine Army has no reason to prevent our assemblies in these venues because these are within IPs lands, within our ancestral domain. If there is anyone who has no authority on our lands, it is them, the military, who have been militarizing our communities and seizing our lands,” said Aguirre.
Aguirre recalled that during Martial law, upland tumandok were forced to leave their communities after members of the Philippine Constabulary indiscriminately killed IPs and burned their houses. This has been going on even before martial law as a result of then President Diosdado Macapagal’s declaration of 33,310 hectares of IP lands as army reservation for the 3rd ID in Jamindan, Capiz.
This year’s assembly is themed “Celebrating 45 years of Struggle and Victories in Defending the Ancestral Lands, Rights and Lives of the Tumandok People.” The assembly started in 1996 and held every two years since.
Among the issues to be discussed during the assembly workshops are the effects of various projects being implemented by the government to the indigenous communities including the construction of mega-dams in Jalaur and Pan-ay rivers and the national greening program (NGP).
There will also be workshops on the effects of climate change, human and IP rights situation and socio-economic development work in IP communities.
The tumandok people are largely found in Central Panay in the municipalities of Maasin, Janiuay, Lambunao, and Calinog in Iloilo province, Tapaz, and Jamindan in Capiz and some areas adjacent to these municipalities in Antique./PT